Why should we learn a language? After all, the whole world speaks English

by David Shandley

The subject of Britain’s image and in regard to its teaching of foreign languages has been discussed a lot over the last few years. “It is sheer folly for Britain to aspire to being a major world economic power if it does not start to do a much better job with its language teaching,” said Dr. Anthony Seldon in 2011. He refers to a system that is rigid, catering for exams with only a few variations depending on the exam board students are required to sit.

Seldon goes on to state that languages are not a priority and in a decade or so unless there is a change, many British students will not speak another language. It is evident that the language learning issue has a political dimension with implications not only for Britain but for Europe. Each year, Britain’s foreign language skills deficit costs the UK £48 billion(or 3.5% of GDP). Clearly, this is not something we can ignore.

Unlike other curriculums on offer, language acquisition is at the core and a high priority in the International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, so much so that you cannot obtain the IB Diploma without at least one foreign language. The reason behind this is that students need to be equipped to tackle the tasks that face them.

At a global level, there are major issues that stand out: maintaining peace, a mobile workforce, a mobile student body, trade, energy supply, environmental protection, and human rights.  In all these and more, countries are more conscious than ever that they must all become effective players on the world stage.

It is not enough to just speak English. Young people without languages are at a growing disadvantage in the recruitment market. In January 2002 the House of Lords debated the value of foreign language learning. All speakers agreed that in a globalised world characterised by international links and intercultural connections, linguistic skills and international experience are crucial factors for career development.

The IB describes the study of additional languages in the middle years programme (MYP) as,

“providing students with the opportunity to develop insights into the features, processes and craft of language and the concept of culture, and to realize that there are diverse ways of living, viewing and behaving in the world.

This is our aim for students at Newland College: provide the opportunity to acquire these international skills which in turn will strengthen their understanding of their own identity.

Is it a challenge? Yes, but one that we are confident we can rise to. A new language opens up a whole new culture. Language acquisition gives us access to a broader awareness of ourselves, and our lives take on a new dimension.

The great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, said in 1827: “Whoever is not acquainted with foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” If language skills are to improve here in Britain, everyone needs to play their part: parents must recognise the importance of language acquisition, encourage their children to take an interest and choose a programme that gives their children this opportunity.

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