It's no secret that the UK struggles when it comes to language learning. As a mostly monolingual nation, we've never quite grasped just how useful speaking another language can be. In fact, anything much beyond a basic 'bonjour' continues to be (somewhat embarrassingly) out of reach for many of us.
And rather worryingly, this year's Language Trends Survey paints a rather sobering picture of the current state of languages in English schools, where our children's attitudes to the value of language learning are formed.
In particular, there is a widening gap between those choosing to study languages in the north and south of the country: London is the only region in England where the percentage of pupils taking languages to GCSE is currently increasing. Pupils in schools in more deprived areas are less likely to sit a language GCSE or to be given the chance to study more than one foreign language. These pupils are also more likely to be allowed to drop languages after only two years or even to be withdrawn from language lessons altogether. Numbers studying languages at A-Level are also notably low.
So, what's the problem? Why aren't our young people learning other languages?
One of the main concerns that teachers have is the disappearance of many opportunities that would traditionally encourage youngsters into language study, such as school exchanges or hosting language assistants in the classroom. And in their eyes, fewer opportunities to talk with native speakers and get first-hand experience of other cultures means fewer young people being inspired to take up languages in the first place.
There is also some anxiety that the current exams system is discouraging pupils - particularly those who need good grades to get into university - from studying languages. Reports of inconsistent marking combined with a perception that languages are more difficult when compared to other subjects is considered deeply demotivating for pupils and teachers alike.
Finally, beyond all of this, there seems to be a growing apathy in the UK about the value of learning another language at all, often based on the incorrect assumption that 'everyone speaks English these days anyway'. So if adults - particularly headteachers and parents - believe that language skills are disposable then why would the young people they influence believe anything different?
The reality is that for more young people to start learning languages they need to be inspired. And it's the responsibility of us all: parents, policymakers, educators, businesses and organisations like the British Council to ensure that happens. It's time to realise that languages are more important than ever as the UK prepares to renegotiate its place in the world.Suggest a correction