The United States and the United Kingdom are having a hard time boosting the number of citizens who can speak a foreign language in a society which has become increasingly monolingual. Scientists and academics are currently calling for a change in the countries’ policies so that the demands of the market and the educational system agree with each other to increase the number of competent second language students in the countries.
At the end of September, professors, researchers and government employees got together in a seminar in Washington DC facilitated by the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language and the British Academy aimed at discussing the issue. Although they did not find concrete answers, they did find that, without appropriate changes in policies, the English-speaking world will continue to become increasingly culturally isolated from the rest of the world and fail to meet the requirements of the international market. Currently, students fail to understand the need for a second language and universities’ language departments continue to get shut down.
Britain and the US Lag Behind
Global jobs and service markets demand for a growing number of foreign language speakers, and the need for speakers of languages other than English has skyrocketed. Current scientific knowledge can be used to reverse current trends, but this new knowledge and technology needs to be properly exploited by the educational system. However, the attendees at the seminar did highlight that a broad federal programme to support language learning was very unlikely to happen in times of budget cuts. According to Professor Anne Pauwels, from the University of London, there is a mismatch between the British official discourse (in which language is a valuable asset) and the educational system, where the choice of languages offered is actually really narrow. On the other hand, according to Hans Fenstermacher from Globalization and Localization Association, the US is nowhere near to creating a multilingual and intercultural country closer to what European countries are like.
The Need for a Solution
To be able to bring about some changes, educators and other experts need to prove that languages are needed, as the panelists have agreed that the main driving force for change has to be based on economic matters. Another strong aspect of languages is their capacity to broaden everyone’s understanding of foreign cultures.
International companies are already investing large amounts of money in linguistics, which has a repercussion on the translation business. The latter has grown 12 percent each year during the recent past. The Internet is also turning increasingly more multilingual. Today, only 30 percent of the traffic is in English, which means that there is a need for content in other languages to cater for a new growing market.