Britain is in a linguistic crisis. The recent release of exam results revealed that entries in French and German at A-Level have roughly halved over the last decade, both plummeting to record lows this year, while only 4,800 students have been accepted onto languages courses at university for the coming year.
Article by Joseph R.
This alarming trend, triggered by the decision in 2004 to make the subject optional at GCSE, comes at a time when the world is becoming ever more globalised and new economic powers outside Europe are emerging. Some Brits think that we don’t need to learn other languages because “everyone speaks English” – in fact, it’s estimated that only around a quarter of the world’s population speaks English to some level. Here are some reasons why studying languages is good for you.
Broadens Your Horizons
Studying a language broadens your horizons in more ways than one. For a start, any language degree includes a compulsory year abroad (not compulsory in the “do I have to?” sense of the word, more the “oh go on then, if I must” sense). Living abroad is a great experience for anyone, and there’s no better way to learn the language and culture of a country than by living there.
There are numerous other opportunities to travel while at university – for example, I spent four weeks in Spain at the end of my first year on a language course. Experiences like this allow you to meet fellow students and other people from all over the world who you would otherwise never get the chance to encounter. There are few more satisfying feelings than talking to someone from another country in a foreign language, and being understood. It beats shouting in English and pointing.
Boosts Career Prospects
One advantage of there being such a shortage of language speakers is that those who go down this route will leave university with excellent career prospects. Languages is one of the university subjects with the highest rates of employment, with 86% of 2012 graduates going into jobs or further study within six months.
Teaching, translation, travel and tourism, finance, law and politics are all career options for language graduates. And even if you don’t go into a career in which you’re regularly using your language skills, a degree in languages gives you a huge range of transferable skills that will appeal to any employer. In an overcrowded graduate job market, having a foreign language on your CV makes you stand out.
Improves Your English
When you’re at school, you don’t really ‘learn’ your mother tongue. It’s more a case of picking it up naturally as you go along. In English lessons, kids read Shakespeare but most of them probably couldn’t explain what a pronoun is. When studying a foreign language, you examine things like grammar, sentence structure and syntax. This gives you a better understanding of English and of language in general, making it easier to learn further foreign languages. It can make you a better speaker and writer, too.
Makes You Smarter
Recent studies have shown that bilingualism boosts intelligence. Brains, like muscles, need exercise to grow, and thinking in two different languages is the equivalent of a long hard session at the gym.
Studies comparing bilingual and monolingual children suggest that speaking a second language improves mental skills such as problem-solving and memory. But it’s not just children who are affected by this. Several studies have found that polyglots are more resistant to dementia in old age.
Doctors at York University in Toronto examined the records of patients diagnosed with dementia and discovered that those who had been bilingual all their life were diagnosed, on average, three to four years later than monolingual patients.
So, what’s stopping you? Learning another language really is good for you – it makes you smarter, more employable, more culturally aware, mentally healthier and, well, just better.
Featured Image: danisabella