NEW RESEARCH reveals how learning a foreign language is not a priority for UK students. In most European countries, it is compulsory to start learning a foreign language between ages 6 and 8 – with English being the most studied foreign language. However, it is around this age that UK pupils often see language classes shortened or dropped, in favour of other priorities. As Britain prepares to leave the EU, it is concerning how fewer than a third of British pupils achieve a good grade in a foreign language at GCSE.
A report by The British Council concluded that schools are struggling to give language studies the resources they need. The decline of language exchange programmes has instilled a mood that language studies are exclusively for the classroom, something British polyglot Olly Richards views as a disastrous waste.
Richards explains “One of the beauties of learning a language is being about to break barriers and meet new people. Although we are moving in the right direction, our education system lags behind our European counterparts in bringing languages to life. It is of little surprise that GCSE language grades and the uptake of A-Level languages are faring poorly. Without showing students the personal and professional possibilities that come with learning a language it’s hard to see how we can increase exam results and the uptake of further study.”
With countries across the world making it mandatory to learn English, it is often assumed that the expectation of others to learn English is what has created a national ambivalence towards languages. However, arguably outdated teaching methods could be to blame for the lack of motivation among UK students to persevere with language studies.
In-class teaching has maintained the same methods for years, however with access to linguistically authentic experiences in the form of apps like HelloTalk, students are gaining access to new learning opportunities outside the classroom. The ability to learn at their own pace, in a fun and financially viable way could see student’s attitudes towards languages change in the coming years.
Richards continues, “As Britain looks to organise trade deals with both the EU and the rest of the world studying foreign languages becomes more important than ever. To many, it is hard to imagine English sliding into irrelevance globally and although very unlikely it is not a wise strategy to stick to the attitude that ‘everyone speaks English anyway’.”
As Britain prepares to leave the EU, it is questionable for how long English will remain the most spoken language. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker commented to a conference in Italy that “English is losing its importance in Europe”. Hindi, Chinese and Spanish are all emerging as popular languages and therefore relying on English as the preferred language of business, could see the UK being left behind.
To keep up with an increasingly multi-lingual world, British people must be encouraged to pick up their devices and engage in 21st Century language exchange where they can take advantage of being able to practice with native speakers of the language they wish to learn.