Language Learning in the UK


It is a fair assessment to say that in the UK there is not a huge emphasis on learning a second language. Estimates show that more than half the population of the world is multilingual. Whereas in the UK, around three-quarters of adults cannot speak a second language. These comparisons are staggering and there are a number of reasons why this is the case.


Being bilingual has many benefits therefore it feels absurd that many people in the UK cannot take advantage of them. One reason for this can be the way languages are taught. Students receive a relatively low number of hours of foreign language education; 216 compulsory hours compared to say 790 hours in Spain. Students as well start too late when the brain is past the first language-acquisition stage. A conclusion presented in a report commissioned by the British Council stated that ‘30% of 15-year old’s about to take their GCSE exams did not achieve any measurable level at all in the language they were studying’.


The report, ‘Language Trends 2015/16: The state of language learning in primary and secondary schools in England’ concluded that exam systems created a negative attitude towards language learning. This in spite of the fact that many students acknowledged that learning another language would be beneficial.


English is also a ‘world language’ so there is a reliance of people from other countries to learn it; the most widely spoken second language amongst Europeans is English. Therefore, in the UK there is a culture of apathy towards learning another language because there is a belief that everyone else can/should understand you. Another intersting point is that in many countries where the official language is English the majority of the population don’t know a second language. Therefore, it can be argued that this apathy derives from the impact that the English language has in a global context.


Learning a second language is important in every aspect of life and it is never too late to start. Unfortunately, in the UK there is not a huge importance placed on this for the reasons outlined above. However, this is something that should be addressed as not only are there many personal benefits but it is also good for the economy. At the moment the amount of people not knowing a second language cost’s Britain around 3.5% of GDP (£48bn) every year.

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