Written by guest blogger Laura Yie
When it comes to learning language, here in the UK, we are lagging far behind. Aside from the speakers of UK minority languages, such as Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish Gaelic etc., and Brits who have immigrated to the UK, or whose families immigrated to the UK, we tend to be monoglots. So why are we so bad at learning languages?
With English enjoying a prominent global position, often being used as a Lingua Franca, we grow up without feeling a real need to learn another language. Learning another language might seem exciting or impressive, but it rarely seems crucial. Something that really struck me when I spent a year teaching English in Spain, was how important learning language seemed to be in Spain. Parents would send their children to Spanish-English bilingual schools and, where they could afford it, to additional private classes, because they were worried that their children wouldn’t have good prospects without a high level of English.
The message that learning a second language is not very important for English speakers is reinforced in our education system. Whilst in Spain, children now learn English from the age of 2 in schools, I didn’t start learning a second language in school until the the age of 11, and by the age of 14, learning another language was no longer compulsory. We had one class a week and rarely had the chance to speak to a native speaker, if at all. On top of sending out the wrong message, this means we don’t have the chance to get used to the different sounds and intonation of a second language from a young age.
Finally, languages can be complex, illogical and frustrating. Whilst so many things are now just the touch of a button away, language learning requires a great amount of time, effort and commitment, and you often feel you are getting no closer to mastering your new language. Without the sense that we really need to learn another language, Brits with an interest in learning another language often lose momentum as they hit their first few hurdles. Since most Brits are generally monoglots, we also lack role models in our lives that disprove the thought that ‘maybe, learning another language is just too difficult’, or friends to share the learning process with (I studied an A level in Spanish in a class of just two people).
Despite all this, there has been a growing interest in language learning apps and language exchanges or classes in the UK in recent years, especially among young adults. The idea of travelling and experiencing new cultures is becoming increasingly popular. I hope that with the help of technology making language resources more accessible, the ease of travel, and improvements in our education system, we will see great progress in language learning in the UK in the next generation.