Young Brits can no longer afford to stay monolingual in a post-Brexit world

Young Brits can no longer afford to stay monolingual in a post-Brexit world

by / 3 Comments / 20/06/2017

When it comes to learning languages, us Brits are abysmal. Under 25 per cent of Brits are bilingual, compared to over half of adults in mainland Europe who are able to converse in at least one additional language. Our lack of language skills is estimated to cost the British economy a staggering £48 billion every year.


These shameful figures mean citizens fail to gain the unparalleled benefits of speaking a foreign language, largely due to our flawed education system, as well as the rife idleness of native English speakers. ‘Everyone speaks English’ or ‘it’s too much hassle for what it’s worth’. These are the close-minded claims of many Brits that prevent them from attempting to learn in the first place, leading to a life of monolingualism and the benefits of language learning being forever absent.

The benefits of language proficiency are three-fold: personal, social and in the world of work. On a personal level, the cognitive benefits of bilingualism are enormous, with empirical studies showing your memory, multitasking and decision-making skills being enhanced. This mental development also greatly diminishes the chance of early Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Language learning offers anyone a unique way to improve their learning capabilities, as well as a greater chance of slowing cognitive deterioration as you age.

Language learning would also revolutionise trips abroad as you become unrestrained with communications, giving you a better understanding of new cultures, easier accessibility to people and a better chance of making new friends — all while you practice your language skills.

If this isn’t enough motive to learn a language, then the advantages in the world of work should also be considered. Language proficiency will boost anyone’s CV, making them more attractive to employers. Particularly in a post-Brexit world, Britain needs high level language skills more than ever. Indeed, according to Jean-Claude Junker, the head of the EU commission, ‘English is losing importance in Europe’. There is now no EU member state with its main language as English, this intensifies the need for competent speakers of French, German and Spanish in the world of diplomacy and trade. By developing our language skills, young people will be better equipped to deal with a post-Brexit world, enhancing our status in the world and ultimately growing the British economy.

With these desirable benefits of language learning, and the unique advantages this bestows on young people and the nation as a whole, why do we not have an education system that offers and actively promotes the learning of languages? It is almost unfathomable that foreign languages are not taught or valued from a young age in this country and thus it comes as no surprise that Britain has a ghastly level of language proficiency.

In most European countries, various foreign languages are taught throughout the education system, with great levels of importance placed on them, giving young people a platform to reach near fluency by the end of school. This sensible system is incomparable to that in Britain. In Britain, language learning is sidelined, leading to apathy and viewing languages as insignificant or an insurmountable challenge. Not only is there a severe lack of motivation, but the very way languages are being taught here is near futile — it took five years of learning pointless French nouns before I was taught verbs, the most important area of a language.

In addition, learning doesn’t commence until the age of eleven — missing the prime age for language acquisition, making it even harder to learn. Frankly, this system is utterly thoughtless. Regardless of English being so widely spoken — giving Europeans a direct imperative to learn the language — Britain should still give young people the chance to bask in the beauty of foreign dialects and gain the wonderful benefits these can bestow. And if our system doesn’t change, why not turn off snapchat for thirty minutes a night and start learning a new language? This way, you spend your time practically and in a rewarding way, while greatly expanding your horizons. To me, it seems a no-brainer.

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  • Sukhbir Sekhon

    Which language do you recommend everybody should learn? You mention French, German and Spanish. Should Brits learn all three? Which method do you suggest if methods used in school are inadequate as you say( and I agree with you).
    This type of article pops up here and there every so often. They all ask the same questions but have few answers.

  • Clare Seccombe

    You say language learning in Britain doesn’t start until age 11, and that “foreign languages are not taught or valued from a young age in this country”. In England, language learning has been compulsory from age 7 since 2014, and in Scotland they start even earlier. Many primary schools have included language learning in their curricula since the early years of this century, and many of us also teach a language to children in Key Stage 1 (age 5-7). The downside is that languages are only compulsory in schools until age 14, compared to age 18 in most of Europe.

  • Shannon Rawlins

    too true! and it’s all about the teaching of languages… you shouldn’t ‘learn’ a language in order to pass an exam like in the UK, you should learn a language in order to be able to communicate! In Europe, languages are taught using complete immersion and it should be the same here imo