The decline of foreign language learning in the UK

Not only do young people limit their job prospects, but they are also depriving themselves of making new friends and truly exploring new cultures.
Recent articles in the Sunday Times and the Independent highlight just how much language learning may impact Britain and its future generations.

Following the announcement of the recent A-Level results across the country, figures have shown a significant drop in traditional modern foreign languages like French and German. With the perception that everyone in the world speaks English, at least to some extent, young people no longer see the need to study languages. This may, however, be a common misconception. It is now more important than ever for teenagers and young adults to be brushing up on their language skills in order for Britain to remain globally competitive in the international market – especially considering that the UK economy is already losing £48 billion each year due to the lack of language skills.

But it’s not just about being competitive in the market, it is also a lack of awareness of other cultures. Their art and literature are readily at our disposal. Reading a translation of Goethe, Flaubert or Kafka just isn’t the same as exploring it in its original language.

With a multi-cultural workforce, we asked around the office what made people choose to learn a foreign language and how this has impacted their lives, both personally and professionally.

Below is a selection of our favourite quotes, which actually came from even further than just our employees.

“One of the misconceptions about studying a language is that it is all learning verbs.  My A-level studies showed me that it was much more than that, about learning to understand and communicate with different people from all over the world.

Although I spent my Erasmus year in Spain, by the time I graduated I was desperate to visit South America and, when I returned from an eight-month backpacking trip, enrolled in an MA in Latin American Studies, which then led to a PhD in recent Argentine and Uruguayan history and culture. I am now a Lecturer in Latin American Studies, and language is an integral part of my research and teaching. It would be impossible to engage with research and teaching in contemporary South American culture without the language skills I have acquired over the last two decades.”

Dr Cara Levey, Lecturer in Latin American Studies, University College Cork, Ireland

“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”

This Monty Python quote would sound 99% worse if translated into any other language. I’m fortunate enough to have learned English at an early age and am able to fully appreciate English humour, its brilliance and ingenuity. Humour’s just one of the reasons why I love being multilingual.

An intermediate knowledge of another language can fully unlock your communication skills wherever you are, for business and for pleasure. It’s a sign of respect towards the new culture you’re experiencing and to the new friends you’re about to make.

Unless it’s Hungarian. Hungarian is difficult.

Georgiana, Project Manager

“Nowadays we base so much of our communication on images, and we sometimes forget the importance of language.  In a world focused on globalization, in order to be truly global, we must embrace different cultures and at least try to understand the words behind the images. Learning a foreign language has helped me in my travels, in my interactions with people from different cultures, and in finding a job that deals with the complex implications of language in almost every aspect of our modern society.”

Oana, Project Management Officer

“I spent my Erasmus year studying at Granada University, Spain.  Not only did I learn the depths of a different culture, language, religion and political system, I also forged unique bonds with other students who to this day remain some of my closest friends.

Since then, languages have been integral to the progression of my career; today I manage a global team across four time zones, and collaborate with international customers, colleagues, and linguists every day of the week.

And those close friends I made 20 years ago in Granada?  They went on to successful careers in Banking, Law, HR, Marketing, and Academia.  Languages form the foundation of communication in today’s globalized world.  Whether it is finance, economics, marketing, broadcasting, teaching – a second language will become your distinguishing skill as you embark on your career. You get the idea. Learning a second language puts you ahead both professionally and personally.

Globalisation will only advance in the future. Be part of that future by choosing languages.”

Sarah, Global Head of Professional Writing Services

“Knowing a foreign language has not only opened up a world of job opportunities, but most importantly has enriched my experience of establishing deep connections and cross-cultural friendships. I believe that if there is a specific culture that you find fascinating and want to understand, the best way you could start is by speaking their native language.”

Maria, Project Manager
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