A lack of appreciation in foreign languages, as well as the global spread of English, may lead to their demiseFlickr

In a 2013 article dealing with the important question of whether or not the UK is in the midst of a language teaching crisis, Mike Kelly, the current Programme Director of the government-funded Routes into Languages, expressed concerns that in modern society languages are thought to be a ‘risky’ subject to pursue at A-level, due to the common perception that they are significantly more difficult than other ‘traditional’ subjects, and due to fears that exam papers are marked too severely and unpredictably. This is especially the case in non-selective state schools, wherein budding linguists are often advised against studying European languages for which the top grades appear to be an unrealistic aim, such as German.

Thus, a self-fulfilling prophecy is initiated whereby state school students are encouraged to doubt and underestimate the scope of their academic abilities, never truly realising their full linguistic potential. Meanwhile, their privately-educated peers are endowed with copious amounts of confidence, a characteristic that is all too visible and destabilising when comprehensive students find themselves surrounded by peers who boast a certain confidence and advanced knowledge that they personally may lack when entering into institutions of higher education.

Now, just months after Theresa May triggered the process of leaving the EU in March of this year, prospects for the accessibility of European languages as an academic discipline in state schools look worrying. According to analysis released by the Press Association, the numbers of applications for degree courses linked to European languages have decreased by almost a quarter, and likewise the numbers for non-European language courses have dropped by almost a fifth. Due to the result of the 2016 referendum, fluency in foreign languages is becoming an increasingly important and sought-after skill, which is essential if we want to minimise the damage caused to relationships with other nations in the wake of Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

However there have been recent concerns that our seeming obsession with European languages derives from a Eurocentric prioritising of European cultures above anything else, which does not fall within this category, with the less complimentary attitude towards certain non-Western languages being a pertinent example of this. Consequently, there are those who call for the increased prioritisation of non-European languages, in fear of the possibility that lesser-appreciated community languages, languages spoken by members of minority groups or communities, such as Urdu, Bengali, and languages stemming from African countries, will soon become extinct for sheer lack of usage, specifically amongst the youngest generations of the ethnic groups from which these languages originate.

Nevertheless, the national lack of interest in (European) languages in general is also, to a certain extent, what fuels this disregard for the community languages of its citizens. Hence, advocacy for the importance of European languages in this country can, in many ways, constitute the advocacy of the importance of all languages.

"The comprehensives, the government, and society in general have a duty to ensure that students learn to value languages other than English"

It is also worth considering the idea that English is, in fact, one of the most problematic languages in regard to cultural erasure. Rapidly disseminated across increasingly more countries, the propagation of the English language ultimately leads to the globalisation of Western ideals via the dominant forms of Western communication. Even though increasing the global English-speaking population can often be seen as an economic benefit, there are decided disadvantages of this phenomenon which we ought not to ignore. A community’s language is inextricably linked to its unique culture and history; to lose a language, however small, is to lose a part of our collective past.

To take from Michael Kelly once again, he states that young people in British schools are bored with describing their pets, and their weekend pastimes in language lessons. While this may be true for certain students, instead of facilitating these ideas by suggesting that it is reasonable for students to actively disassociate from language learning, the comprehensives, the government, and society in general have a duty to ensure that students learn to value languages other than English. Perhaps decolonising the way in which languages are taught to students, and the material to which they have access, could augment the interest of young people; the earlier we are encouraged to look beyond the borders of Western colonial rule, and delve into the rich cultural histories that European languages possess, the easier it will be to introduce decolonised curriculums into higher education because a need for this material will be created.


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Nonetheless, finding a tangible solution to the increasing inaccessibility of language learning in state education needs to become a higher priority in our unstable cultural climate. Through the marketisation of languages in the private education sector, Modern Foreign Languages are fast becoming a discipline to which only the most academically privileged have access. Therefore, let us not forget that this academic elitism is symptomatic of a larger global issue

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