94% of the world does not speak English as their first language. 75% of the world doesn’t speak English at all.
I’ll let that settle in for second so you can truly appreciate that no, not everyone speaks English. It’s a reality that sometimes, some people have to understand. The attitude of many at school is sad, frankly. It serves as no surprise that people my age from Europe see English students as ignorant or uncultured.
I work part-time in my college here in Grenoble as an English Language Assistant. I hold conversational classes each week with groups of French students who are looking to improve their English for a variety of reasons, mostly alongside their regular English lessons.
In my first session with each group I asked the students what they thought of England and what they think of English education. Without exception, they were surprised that I actually spoke French – the perception of the UK when it comes to learning foreign languages is quite a poor one. An inability to communicate with our European neighbours is appalling but true.
Why is this though? Well, you could go back to the early days of secondary education where it’s very much down to school policy if schoolchildren should actually study it. The lessons are often uninteresting and struggle to provide any practical framework for learning. In my opinion, the curriculum is a mess for languages, preferring to talk about school subjects and what you find in your pencil case (genuinely what I wasted an entire term talking about) than something useful for visiting countries, understanding the language and having simple conversations.
By the time many students get to choosing their GCSE’s, languages have become so uninteresting for many that it’s the end of the road for them. No point continuing if you’re going to be treated to the same for two more years, let alone think about it as a legitimate A Level option.
Despite the mess of the system I persevered through GCSE and found it could be a subject worth taking at A Level. Indeed I did and it would later take French as a module at university. Right now I’m on an Erasmus placement, partly down to my work in French.
There were times when I found it tedious but then again I knew that the end result would be a good understanding of a foreign language and some great experiences abroad.
But don’t just hear my experiences, there are several other reasons why studying a foreign language could work for you later:
- Someone with even a ‘decent’ grasp of a foreign language could be of great value to an employer. Language skills will help in a world where people are getting closer and more easily connected. This is especially true when it comes to business and commerce. Being able to compete internationally in a global market is something that many companies look for – if you can speak a foreign language to a fair level, you could find yourself a lot higher up people’s lists than you initially thought you would be.
- Languages can open up further study opportunities for people. Certainly for me I wouldn’t be an Erasmus student without sticking at French, even through some of the tougher times.
Study placements abroad are, from my experience so far, highly enriching and exciting opportunities, whatever you choose to do.
- Culturally, you could find yourself a step up. For me, learning French for me has lead to being able to meet and make friends with so many different people. Even when we’re all from different places around the world, we are united in a common language.
Of course, you don’t have to take a full degree in a foreign language to see some benefit. In some courses (mine included) we were able to exchange modules to take part in foreign language modules that would form part of our degree. Not a full joint-honours as such, but still pretty interesting if you like your languages.
Of course, a joint-honours could be an excellent option if you’re really into your languages and want a bigger emphasis on the building of your understanding.
So where could you go with a degree in foreign languages, a joint-honours with a language, or even just a module?
Well, the reality of it is quite simple. If you took a joint-honours or took a language as a module, you could find yourself in the same domain as your major part of your degree or the other half of a joint-honours. The added bonus you get is that you will display a greater range of skills that will be highly coveted.If, however, you took a modern language as a whole degree, you could find yourself out in a variety of different fields…
Being a broadcaster or journalist is a somewhat unusual route if you didn’t take a specific degree. However, if you find yourself in such a posting you could well be using your language skills abroad somewhere. Many great journalists can speak in a different language to help their work. On a similar vein, even if you aren’t the main journalist or reporter, you could find yourself helping them. How?
It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? And for good reason, really. The reality is that, because so many people don’t speak enough of any foreign languages, there is a need to help people converse. For example, The Courts here in the UK look for translators and interpreters to help in criminal and civil proceedings in court, where defendants, witnesses and other members of the proceedings may not speak English first.
Interpreting has a home in journalism, as previously mentioned. Working alongside an interpreter could take you to some fascinating places as you gain experience.
Teaching / Tutoring
Given my feelings on secondary education in foreign languages, why not get out there and get people into modern foreign languages. Perhaps you could reignite some interest!
And of course, there are always the dedicated students of now who may want a little extra help to get them through their studies. Especially if you’re a student, why not consider earning a bit of money by modern foreign language online tutoring? It would be a great way to get started in the world of languages.