Monday, 26 December 2011

The importance of learning languages: where the UK is going wrong!

I am currently reading an article for a class on English-Spanish translation for Tourism and Leisure and it inspired me to vent some of my anger on the topic of the importance of language learning. Here is the link to the article (written in Spanish) for those of you who are interested: 

The article talks about how crucial it is nowadays to learn foreign languages for business, especially in the tourism sector, whether the reason for travelling be a holiday or to conduct business. They say that English is the most widespread language used for communication within the business sector and that this is now reflected more and more in the Spanish education system. To me this seems to be true not just of Spain, but of many countries all over the world. 

Why is it then that the British government feel that we Brits should not learn foreign languages? They might not say it in so many words, but the huge budget cuts in languages in universities up and down the country speak volumes. At Strathclyde University they have reduced the number of languages students can take with the IBML degree (International Business and Modern Languages) from 2 to 1. At Glasgow University there are proposed cuts of Polish, Czech, Russian, German, Italian, Portuguese and Catalan due to budget cuts and a lack of interest in the languages. I personally cannot comprehend these moves. Budget cuts may be inevitable but if the government were to give more importance to language learning and encourage students to learn languages like Polish, then the courses would be more popular. This article from the Independent speaks about such cuts and points out that more than 50,000 Polish people came to the UK in 2010, yet only 500 students gained qualifications in Russian and Eastern European Studies ( 

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that learning foreign languages and gaining some cultural awareness will improve our employability and competitiveness in the workplace. The UK expect its migrant workers to have a certain level of English coming into the country, but we Brits can offer very little in return to other countries, which is quite frankly sad and embarrassing. And we claim to be a multicultural society?

Studying in a Spanish university has given me the opportunity to view so-called 'Great' Britain from the perspective of a foreigner. They are all extremely surprised that I can get by speaking in Spanish, yet we are not in the least bit surprised when a foreigner can speak to us in fluent English! In my opinion, the government should try to encourage more of us to learn foreign languages and from a younger age as well. Maybe that way students could graduate from High School with the ability to say more than "j'ai un chien" after at least 4 years of studying French. That's not going to get you very far now, is it?

In conclusion, learn languages people! I guess this article is slightly pointless as most of you who are reading this will be currently studying one or more foreign languages. But if you are not, maybe you should? Food for thought =)