Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Languages: A passport to the world

Our latest blog post comes from Rebeccah Williams of Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf, currently enjoying her work experience at the WCIA.

Languages. There are 6,912 of them in the world, but they’re not very popular in Britain. To British teenagers, languages are usually associated with school, exams, and a lot of effort, but being able to speak more than one language is actually extremely helpful for our future and can help us in later life. They are very, very useful. 

The countries where the highest proportion of children learn foreign languages in secondary schools are Czech Republic, France, The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. The lowest are Ireland (58%), and the United Kingdom (32%). So why do British people not like learning foreign languages?

The list of possibilities for things to do with languages is endless. It’s commonly thought that if you do languages, the only jobs you could ever do is teaching, or be a translator. Fortunately, that thought is wrong as you could do just about anything! Yes, you could be a teacher, if you wanted to, or you could be a translator, but you could also be a yacht/jet seller, and sell incredible yachts/jets to multi billionaires from all over the world. If you love video games, you could be a video game tester, making sure that companies have translated words and sentences properly from one language to another. You could also be a tour organiser if you love travelling. This enables you to travel and use your languages. There are many, many more ‘less known’ jobs that you could get with languages! 

If you wanted to work in business, there is a good chance that your work would lead you out of the UK, or you would have to deal with people from foreign countries. Being in business probably means that these people will speak English anyway, but speaking their native language, will make the whole affair more comfortable and easy. It will also give the colleague a good first impression, as you are making an effort to speak his/her language.

Also, if you decide to move countries, it helps if you can speak your chosen country’s language already. It helps the move become easier and less of a struggle. Especially if you are moving to work in that country, and have to go straight into the busy life with people speaking to you and expecting you to know what they are saying. It’s exactly the same if you are thinking of studying abroad. 

Unfortunately, the number of pupils that took French and German for GCSE in the UK dropped dramatically from 479,413 pupils in 1995 to 215,108 in 2010. The number of pupils that took foreign languages for A level almost halved between 1996 and 2010. Wales, study shows, is the worst country in the UK at the moment for students in high school taking foreign languages. In 1995 the numbers studying a foreign language for GCSE were 55% but those numbers declined to 29.6% in 2008. 

The director of Wales’ National Center of Languages (Cilt Cymru), Ceri James, said: "A lack of interest in subjects such as French and German is holding the nation back in an increasingly competitive European jobs market."

The British are terribly bad at learning foreign languages, and the situation is getting worse. A decade ago, around 80% of high school children studied a foreign language; now, only 48%. A clear reason for this is because English has become a universal language and is spoke well in most countries, therefore the British can travel around the world without having too much of a problem with communicating. Also, British children do not often learn English grammar, and therefore when they come across foreign language grammar, they find it quite difficult. Instead of choosing to study a hard and confusing subject, they turn to subjects that are more interesting to them and that they can do.

Welsh people are also lacking in language enthusiasts. This is odd because in Wales, children are used to having to cope with learning more than one language on a day-to-day basis, and therefore learning another language might not be that much of a problem. Although you could argue that if Welsh children have to learn another language, then they might not want to study yet another one, and so choose not to carry on with foreign languages, and stick to their native languages. It all lies with the personality of the student. 

Languages help you, and although sometimes they can be a lot of effort, they pay off in the long run. Even if you don’t want to mainly focus on languages and have other interests that you wish to start a career in, you could always try and get that job in that area of expertise abroad - thanks to the language(s) you can speak. 

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, UK unemployment rose in the months building up to Christmas and the New Year by 28,000, making the total unemployment figure 2.67 million. If you have a language under your belt, precious job vacancies will be easier for you to find and different and new opportunities will present themselves to you, whilst others desperately hunt for jobs. 

Audrey Hepburn (Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, English), Johnny Depp (English, French), Morgan Freeman (English, French), Roger Federer (English, German, French), Sandra Bullock (English, German), and my role model, J.K.Rowling (English, German, French, Spanish) all speak more than one language, and they have all been highly successful in their work. If you want to be an actor, then being able to speak another language is also useful, because it might enable you to do some acting abroad or in different languages.

In conclusion, languages are a basic skill and everyone needs to be able to speak at least one. Some enjoy learning them, and therefore learn as many as they can. Others prefer to just stick with the language they’re comfortable with and enjoy other subjects. Languages aren’t for all of us, and for many, they can be extremely difficult, but they really do benefit you in life, and they give you more confidence to do what you want to do.