Why aren’t more British people learning languages?

According to a recent EU survey, only 38% of British people can speak more than one language, making Britain the worst country in Europe in terms of multilingualism.

Why are the Brits bad at language learning?

Historically, English is the pre-eminent world language; it is seen as the ‘lingua franca’ for international business, diplomacy, science, technology, and many other sectors. English is often taught to children in other countries early on in their education, allowing them to achieve a greater level of fluency at younger ages, causing British school pupils to fall behind linguistically. This is further exacerbated by the mantra of some British holidaymakers – “they all speak English” – people no longer perceive the need to speak another language, in order to communicate when abroad.

Within the UK, this attitude is reinforced by the late introduction of languages in school curricula and by their optionality.

Within the school week, few hours are devoted to languages, in comparison to the sciences.

This gap between lessons is not conducive to greater language learning. Anyone who has studied languages before will attest to the fact that it is necessary to study and practice them often.

Why should Brits learn languages?

Emerging countries are challenging and surpassing the 20th century world dominance of US/UK trade. Of our 20 major trading partners by revenues, only 5 are English-speaking. Due to the rise of technology, the world is becoming smaller; it is easier than ever to communicate with someone on the other side of the globe. Therefore, it is vital that expanding businesses reach out to these foreign markets. One of the best ways of doing this is knowledge of a shared language.

The need for languages is consistently growing every year.

Language is not only the words we use, it is also something that affects the culture of each country, and even the mentality of the people. There are many words that are impossible to translate, as they so inherently belong with one nation. Learning foreign languages allows these linguistic and cultural barriers to be removed, and for misunderstandings to disappear. Learning another language can be seen as a sign of respect for other nations; we do not simply assume that they will speak our language, and therefore we are making the effort to reach out to them.

How can we tackle this?

In order to promote languages, we must encourage the early introduction of language study in schools, and pay particular attention to languages that are increasingly economically and politically important, such as Mandarin, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, and Persian.

Before reaching secondary school, children were not required to learn a modern foreign language until 2014.

This change has come about due to the government recognising that in order to learn a language effectively, a child should be exposed to the process, and to the language, from an early age. We learn languages more effectively when we are younger, therefore compulsory language learning at younger ages will promote a greater linguistic ability amongst younger generations.

Once we see languages to be as important as other subjects, and not simply ticking the boxes of the national curriculum, students will have a greater desire to continue learning them.

Many students are under the impression that careers related to languages are limited. However, learning a language can open up many possibilities, making them an inviting prospect, something that many students do not realise. Here at Capita TI, we recognise the importance of learning languages, and actively promoting the study of languages within the community.

Therefore, it is time that languages are given the recognition they deserve within schools, so that in the future we can expel the myth of British people being notoriously bad language learners. There will always be a desire for multilingualism, and it is vital that Britain establishes itself as a forward-thinking and progressive nation.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

Share this story

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up