How a bigger role for languages in the education curriculum can help to fix our fractured Union, prepare us for success post-Brexit and make Britain a better place.
London, one of the world’s financial capitals and home to people from a huge range of different cultures, traditions and backgrounds, is the capital of a country that is also notorious for a population unwilling to learn foreign languages. Certainly, when compared to our European neighbours, who very often are bilingual from a very young age, Britain is a nation made up mostly monolingual masses. Of course, it would be daft to insist that this is the root of all of our woes, but perhaps a renewed effort to teach languages to the youth of our nation can provide us with some of the solutions to some of the biggest issues that our country will have to face over the next few decades.
If, as the many supporters of Brexit often proclaim, leaving the European Union is about a new, more relevant, and more global Britain, then languages surely have a vitally important role to play in our future. Language skills, which inherently come with a knowledge of national cultures and traditions, will be vital in forming new, stronger relationships in areas of the world where perhaps British soft power has been less present. British businesses need language skills to survive and thrive in international markets, and if post-Brexit we are less willing to import the people that have these language skills into our labour market then it’s an absolute necessity that we start to create a generation of young people that are geared up and ready to fill this skill gap.
Britain is also facing increased divisions between its four constituent nations. The survival of our Union, if possible, has to be built on a new era of respect between our family of nations. A deeper knowledge, taught from a young age, of the various national cultures that exist in our United Kingdom, will undoubtedly lead to a greater level of respect and unity in our nation and will hopefully go some way to defeating the nationalist arguments that exist in all four corners of our country. If the British government were to make such an outward display of appreciation of national identities and cultures, by making concrete and visible steps to revive languages such as Welsh and Irish in all four nations of Britain, perhaps in decades to come we will find that we are a less fractured and divided place. Languages such as Irish and Welsh are struggling, seemingly unloved and neglected by, what is often perceived as, an English-oriented government in London. Welsh and Irish are a huge untapped cultural resource that can serve to strengthen our Union, rather than weaken it. Teaching these languages to children all over Britain will not only increase respect between our four nations but it will also serve as a constant reminder of the beauty of our Union, of how we are united in our diversity as well as by the very islands we call home.
Perhaps most importantly to everyday British citizens, languages are also shown to have a hugely positive impact on our individual prospects for success as well as our standards of living. Other than the obvious advantages that come with a deeper knowledge of a foreign language when it comes to travelling around the world, learning languages has also been shown to have links with delaying the onset of dementia, an increasingly worrying problem in an ever-ageing population. Learning languages might also help to make Britain a more understanding and compassionate place. Too few people in our country appreciate the trials and tribulations that come with learning a language to fluency and therefore too many people lack compassion and empathy towards those that cross continents and seas to make Britain their home. A more bilingual Britain would be a Britain that better understands that speaking with a heavy accent is more often than not the sign of someone who speaks multiple languages and whose knowledge and experience of the world most likely is an incredible asset to our country.
At the end of the day, the learning of languages is not only an intellectual pursuit, which can yield untold benefits to the citizens of our nation as well as to our society in general, but it’s also a labour of love. The people that come to our country, bringing their many skills and talents, and learn our language have shown a huge amount of love, commitment and respect towards Britain, its culture, and its history. These people should be welcomed with open arms by us all. They serve as an example of values that we, as Britons, should hold above all others. Let’s follow the example of these incredibly skilled, intelligent, and resourceful individuals and teach our children the language skills necessary for them to also make it in more competitive and globalised future, whilst also remembering that we don’t have to travel across the world, or even across the Channel, to discover new languages.