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More should be done to fix monolingualism in the UK

For years, the English language has been treated as though it is universal. It is estimated that 55.5% of all web content is in English – a dramatic figure when just 5% of the world speaks it as their native language. Due to past colonisations and its current dominance in mass media, English is generally perceived to be the world’s primary language, but this has resulted in harsh repercussions for foreigners who lack the essential skill. Brits unfairly benefit from their language, and subsequently many argue that there is no point in bothering to learn any other language. However, I believe that this ‘English is enough’ attitude is incredibly harmful and therefore, as a country, we ought to work together to cure the tragedy of monolingualism in Britain.

The view that being able to speak other languages besides English is ‘unnecessary’ or ‘a waste of time’ is an absolutely absurd argument. No wonder Brits are often stereotyped to be lazy, closed-minded, rude people. Brits are reportedly the worst in Europe at learning foreign languages, with 80% of European 15-30 year olds being able to read and write in at least one foreign language whereas only 30% of British 15-30 year olds can do so. This was not helped by the 2004 UK education change that saw language GCSEs being made voluntary, leading to a steady decline in language students ever since. However, GCSEs alone will not provide a sufficiently high level of language education. A bigger change in attitude is needed.

Learning another language demonstrates respect as, ultimately, it is an act of openly embracing a different culture

Learning another language demonstrates respect as, ultimately, it is an act of openly embracing a different culture. By simply attempting to speak a language and showing an interest in it, no matter your level, you will be rewarded. Natives wholly appreciate the kindness behind doing so and will feel valued. Instead, many Brits at a restaurant on holiday naturally assume that the waiter will just speak in English to them – a seemingly ridiculous notion when they are the visitors to the country. Although this is not a direct action of rudeness, it does show narrow-mindedness and an insular viewpoint. We ought to fix this by reaching out and acknowledging the local language. This puts local people at ease and makes them feel value- some restaurants may even offer better service if they see your active engagement with their language.

Learning languages offers endless benefits and is arguably one of the most sought after skills both professionally and socially. Despite the obvious advantages it gives you in the job market (professional environments generally deem English the official language of the workplace) it also provides you with a skill like no other. Multilingualism has been proven to boost confidence, improve your global awareness, enhance your ability to multitask, improve your decision-making skills, help form a bigger global network, and improve your memory. 

Such cognitive benefits massively outweigh the effort it is of learning a language and ultimately, it is a fun and extremely useful ability to have. It adds so many exciting elements to travel and gives you the opportunity to connect with fascinating people from all over the world. Linguist Trevor Stevens explains: “the decreasing number of students learning languages is a cause for concern. Being able to converse with someone from another country in their native tongue is the only way to fully understand what makes them unique, and how they are both the same as and different from us.”

Nevertheless, many Brits are reluctant to learn a language as it can prove extremely difficult and time-consuming. Some are put off by the frustrating realisation that many young children, who cannot even swim, are able to rapidly master languages with no formal education. However, these reasons are simply unacceptable. The world is willing to learn our language, so why do so many of us refuse to return the favour? 

Learning languages offers endless benefits and is arguably one of the most sought after skills both professionally and socially

Languages open countless doors and monolingualism leaves a whole part of your brain unused. There will always be a desire for multilingualism and it is vital that Britain establishes itself as a forward-thinking and progressive nation. The need for languages is constantly growing and if more Brits were bilingual or multilingual, it would hugely improve the UK’s global connections and power dynamic. Although we naturally possess knowledge of a language with enormous global significance, it would be ignorant to assume that we will always be able to rely on the usefulness of English when, in fact, linguists warn that English could lose its prominence in the near future. Emerging countries, most notably China, are challenging and surpassing the 20th-century world dominance of US and UK trade, and only three of the UK’s fifteen major trading partners are English-speaking. 

As a world-leading nation, it is our responsibility to make a dramatic change to improve our worldwide communication. Stevens recognises the difficulty of doing so: “I struggle to envisage a way to turn the tide, but the answer has to lie in a drastic change in attitude to language teaching in educational policy.” We cannot continue being mocked for our two-dimensional ignorance and disastrous ability to learn languages. It is time that we collectively give languages the recognition that they deserve within schools and general life, so that we can overturn the stereotype that Brits are notoriously terrible at learning other languages. If not, we risk dangerous shifts to our world prominence and may only be able to communicate among ourselves.

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