UK Worst in the Class When it Comes to Language Learning in the EU

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It is no secret that the Brits are not that keen on learning new languages. However, according to an EU education Commisioner, this attitude might backfire.

EU education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou thinks is it about time the UK changes its approach to foreign languages.

For a long time, citizens in the United Kingdom simply assumed their business partners would speak English. According to an article on the website of The Independent by Richard Gardner, Vassiliou thinks these years are long behind us. To remain a big player in the international field, Britons must change their ways.

Vassiliou refers to EU reports in which it became clear that the UK is the weakest country in the EU language league table. Only nine per cent of all fifteen-year-old teenagers in our nation speak another language. The EU objective for its countries is that half of all citizens must speak foreign language, which means the UK is nowhere near reaching their target. In fact, when compared to the Swedish and the Dutch, UK teens are even further behind as  the percentage of teenagers that speak another language in these countries that top the chart is over eighty per cent.

The Independent recently conducted an interview with Ms. Vassiliou. In this interview, she stated that even though she felt the overall results of the study were disappointing, the results for the UK took the biscuit. According to her, the small number of Britons that speak a foreign language has to do with the fact that most people in other EU countries speak English as their second language.

This takes away the urgency for UK citizens to learn another language as they can make themselves understood in their native one.

However, Vassiliou does not think this approach will do the Britons much good. With all the globalisation and travelling that takes place, speaking English simply isn’t enough. Consumers who purchase goods online prefer to do so in their own language, and with an increase in online commerce, this means the UK must up their game.

Mid-October, Vassiliou gave a speech at the London Languages show. Here she stated that somehow, people in the UK are hesitant to enter into programmes such as Erasmus+, which enables students to study abroad. Only 40,000 Britons currently receive an EU grant to spend time abroad for their education. In comparison, 83,000 Germans receive a similar grant. The advantages of studying abroad reach further than simply learning a new language, Vassiliou said. As students meet people from different cultures, it also helps to broaden their world view.

According to Gardner, the number of French and German degree courses available in the UK has dropped dramatically as well: since 2000, the number of French courses has gone down from 105 to 70. For German, the fall is even greater as the 105 courses that were on offer in 2000 has fallen to a mere 50. Moreover, he says, since 2010, there has been a decrease of seventeen per cent in the number of students that start a study in a foreign language.

To bring these detrimental developments to a halt, Vassiliou believes the UK should take a look at China and mimic their new approach to language learning; the Asian country now trains its teachers in all EU languages to enable them to communicate with these countries in their native language.

Vassiliou does think that change is around the corner for Britain, as she felt the Coalition Government is keen to improve the language skills of their citizens. She believes another move in the right direction is the fact that starting next year, all UK children will receive language education from age seven onwards. Moreover, the new English Baccalaureate GCSE raking measure requires pupils must have a top grade in a foreign language to qualify for the GCSE. These new improvements have left Vassiliou optimistic about the future of foreign language of the UK.

Who knows, we might all be multilingual in a few years!

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