I am currently studying English and French at University and I cannot count how many times I have heard the refrain, ‘What’s the point in a language? Everybody speaks English anyway’. It is the question all language learners hate. It is the question which leads us into an eternal despair. It is the question which at times can be impossible to answer, whether due to time constraints or to the inability sometimes of speech to form a cohesive sentence.  This widespread opinion is clearly demonstrated in the disinterest of students to continue with languages past GCSE, a disinterest which is highlighted nearly yearly by the media.

According to the finding of the British Council in the article Languages for the Future published in 2013, only 3.8 per cent of all A-level entries are for languages, and even fewer students are deciding to take their study of languages to degree level.  The education of languages has come under criticism and increased pressure due to these rather depressing statistics.  However, ultimately these statistics are not a surprise. I have witnessed a general distaste and ambivalence toward language learning from my peers. Who knows why such ambivalence exists, perhaps it is the education system, perhaps not. In this article I am not going to look at the reasons for why these ideas about language learning exist, instead I am going to give my final defence on the point of languages, explaining why the excuse ‘everybody speaks English anyway’ is not good enough.

As a population, evidently we don’t value the process of learning other languages because of the misplaced belief that it will have no purpose. Unfortunately, this attitude has an impact upon the UK.  A 2013 survey of business by the Confederation of British Industry found that only 36 per cent were satisfied with their employees language skills. The same report by the British council also discussed the impact of the UK’s deficiency in language as detrimental to their trading relationships.

These statistics for British business are obviously concerning, but these economic worries are not the only reason in my opinion why the population as a whole should be stirred. The cultural and personal ramifications of a deficiency in language are great. On a cultural level, language at its core is intrinsic to someone’s identity, and ultimately Britain’s education system and Britain as a whole should take some responsibility in supporting the preservation of language and move away from the ambivalence which has previously been encouraged.

However, the most important aspect of language and ultimately its true function and purpose  is that  it is a way to make connections with people. Nelson Mandela once said: ‘If you talk to man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language then it goes to his heart’. This insightful comment for me portrays the main reason why it is essential to study language. If the interactive side of language was emphasised more within the curriculum, I feel more students would be inclined to study languages further in their education.

It is only through the exchange of language that friendships can be formed, and with the world we live in becoming increasingly more international, and with improved technology, it means making connections with people from all around the world has never been easier. In the twenty-first century, the lines of friendship no longer have to be defined by place, but they could be defined by the languages you are able to speak.  I look at the friends I have made, the different people I have met and the different stories I have heard, all because I studied another language. I know when all is said and done that those experiences, those memories and those individuals are the point of language learning.

This purpose is not always clear when I am revising grammar or I make the same pronunciation mistake for the umpteenth time, but it’s what motivates me to continue to learn.  At the end of the day, people who only know one language will not have these same experiences and that is why the statistics about language education in the UK are not only saddening, but in reality rather tragic.

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