Lacking Foreign-Language Knowledge – The Negative Side
Michael Moriarty, Head of the French Department at the University of Cambridge, has supported the view that languages foster a society where citizens have a better understanding of how the world really works, in all its complexity and diversity. He adds that, as a consequence of the lack of communication with other countries, the United Kingdom would remain a prisoner of its own inherited habits of thought, ignoring any new insights and breakthroughs which could be present within other societies.
Following his own view of languages’ power, the United Kingdom would do good to learn languages because it leads to an understanding of the other, which eventually fosters a greater understanding of the self. According to the younger citizens who are language students themselves, lacking knowledge of foreign languages has negative consequences when trying to find a job or even in the case when one decides to work abroad.
A decreasing demand for language courses at universities leads to a reduction in the number of languages offered, further harming the entire system and the possibilities it has to revert current linguistic trends. The Guardian has recently reported that, since 1998, the number of universities which offer honours language degrees have suffered a decrease of 40 per cent.
According to Professor Katrin Kohl, a founder of the Oxford German Network, current trends in the United Kingdom are turning foreign language competence into a privilege only available for the higher classes, as evidenced by the fact that certain universities such as the University of Oxford seem to be escaping the trend.
Explanations for this type of behaviour in the United Kingdom vary from geographical to policy-related reasons. Many sustain that, due to the U.K.’s position as an island removed from the mainland and the other European countries, there is no automatic second language that instantly makes the British more competitive in the job market. Another much quoted explanation is the one related to the position of English as today’s lingua franca, as there is widely held belief among the citizens that they will be able to speak English wherever they are and be immediately understood. Because it is true that English has become the language of business and tourism around the world, sometimes it is hard for students to find a motivation to learn a foreign language when they can cope with knowing only their own.
As regards the drop in the number of students taking language A-levels, Kohl has stated that there is a problem with the grading system of the A-levels, which makes getting A*s much more difficult in these exams. This sole fact might actually put students off preparing for such exams, as they are regarded as risky or too hard.