The Daily Mail website recently published an article called “Why do the English need to speak a foreign language when foreigners all speak English?” The author – David Thomas – argues that students in the UK who choose to not learn a foreign language at school are making an entirely sensible choice. Learning foreign languages is no longer compulsory in schools in England after the age of 14 and the numbers choosing not to study a language has been steadily decreasing. Last year the numbers of school students studying French and German was the lowest ever, and many university departments teaching modern language are threatened with closure. Apparently 380000 teenagers leave school every year without studying a language.
So, why does David Thomas thing it’s a waste of time? His argument is simple really – he claims since English is the language the world uses and increasingly so there is simply no justification for spending any time on foreign languages – unless you want to know a few phrases when you go on holiday. He says “there’s absolutely no need to learn any one particular language unless you’ve got a specific professional use for it.” Since everyone in the world is learning Enlgish – why bother? Of course this flies in the face of the argument that employers like to employ people who speak languages – not necessarily because they need to use the languages, but because the way they think (whatever kind of mind a linguist has) makes them good and creative employees. There is also the fact that a significant amount of our business is done within Europe and it is clear that our trading partners prefer to work with people who speak their languages. So seeing the numbers of students learning languages at UIC who learn foreign languages increasing once again this year, we’d have to say that Mr Thomas has got it completely wrong.