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Dramatic decline in foreign languages studied at university

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/dramatic-decline-in-foreign-languages-studied-at-university-901855.html#mainColumn

Not the biggest affliction we're faced with in this country granted but still discussion-worthy.

Perhaps I'm a little biased being a linguist but this article did make me have a good old ponder.

Is this:

- Indicative of our 'insularity' as a people?
- Indicative of a perceived 'cultural (and linguistic) superiority'?
- Indicative of bugger all and just a trend that will reverse itself given time?

There was an excellent article ages and ages ago in the Indy arguing that, were kids in our schools taught Spanish instead of French as their second language (assuming, rather naively that English is their first to begin with), then perhaps we would be more proficient at foreign languages. This, the writer argued, was down to the fact that French is actually really hard and, as such, it puts people off. Espanol, on the other hand, is relatively easy to get to a reasonable level in and, perhaps, may give people more confidence in languages rather than just 'expecting everyone to speak English' which I find rather regrettable.
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Comments

  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    In terms of being able to speak and read a language what does a degree offer above an A'level?

    By the time my sister finished her A'levels she was pretty proficient at Spanish - then most of her Spanish degree was actually literature with some history, which was fine for her as her other option was English Lit

    It may be that many people do it up to A'level, become reasonably proficient and then drop because they don't want to have to plough through great works of literature
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I'd say indicative of the fact that English is the de facto world language, and that learning other languages is difficult relative to most other subjects on offer.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    thats interesting. I think it IS indicative of our insularity more than anything.
    I found this

    http://french.about.com/cs/teachingresources/a/spanishiseasier.htm
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I have to come in again to say I really don't think its anything to do with "insularity." Mainly because we are probably the least insular nation on earth. It was waves of many types of immigrants and invaders that resulted in the English language coming into being in the first place. Then we have worldwide trade networks, exploration, colonization, imperialism, warfaring, immigration and migration (partly why English is so widely spoken around the world)...that hardly adds up to "insular."
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think it is sad that as a nation there seems to be a stubborn mindset against learning other languages, but I think it's more to do with not teaching children at an early age where they might be more receptive to second language education.

    The worldwide dominance of English is a major stumbling block to people learning a second language because as you rightly point out, there is an 'English is expected' mindset. The fact that English is so dominant makes fluent foreign language interlocutors more likely to ask to speak in English than the other way round.

    There's a really good set of articles in the most recent Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquee Review (AILA review) that deals with all of these questions, particularly with regards to the dominance of English in academia.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    As a foreigner I would say that foreign language learning at school does only take you so far. I certainly learnt more English after 3 months living here than I'd learn in several years in the Spanish educational system.

    The bigger problem really lies in the actual fact that English is spoken at some level or other in most places on Earth, as well as being the international language for business and IT. While people from other countries feel they must learn English to get somewhere, English speakers do not.

    Having said that, I've seen plenty of examples of English ex-pats (or tourists) in Spain who can't even be bother to say hello, please, thank you or to learn the local bus fare in Spanish. In that the English seem worse than most when it comes to that.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Fuck Spanish, French and German; we should be getting our children to learn Chinese from an early age.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    thats interesting. I think it IS indicative of our insularity more than anything.
    I found this

    http://french.about.com/cs/teachingresources/a/spanishiseasier.htm

    Hmm. Didn't really teach me anything I didn't already know.

    Granted both languages have their difficult aspects (I personally think English is one of the hardest languages to learn as a foreigner, given the complete lack of any logic to our pronunciation for example), and maybe I didn't make my original post clear.

    Speaking both fluently (well, I used to speak French fluently; has since been forgotten due to resentment and lack of use), I feel I'm reasonably well qualified to speak for both:

    - Both are very difficult to master. The same is true of any language.
    - Spanish is a lot easier, as the article points out, to get to a reasonable level. French, I found, was hard every step of the way.

    Flashman; I thought the same - how much can I possibly learn post-A-level. However, even after two years of a degree at a top uni, it was only when I got to a Spanish-speaking country where I was expected to live and work did I realise how much there was I didn't know. Perhaps for basic functions such as being on holiday, A-level will suffice but it cannot be classed as 'speaking' the language. Literature and culture help you understand a lot more about the language and about the people who speak it. Plus literature helps your vocabulary no end; the most common limiting factor to achieving fluency.

    Yerascrote; fuck Chinese - it's Russian we all need to learn :) oh wait, hang on, I speak Russian :D
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Hmm. Didn't really teach me anything I didn't already know.

    sorry, i just found it cos i found it and thought it was interesting so thought others might, being that most people here will probably be monolingual, yet still heard the cliché of spanish being easy and french being difficult. I wondered why.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I reckon its just a trend. If anything people are now, more than ever before, aware of the existence of other countries, cultures and ways of life - and the importance of communication. If anything English superiority or insularity should have been more prevalent before Globalisation, the Internet etc.

    But yeah, I chose Spanish rather than French just cause I knew my pronounciation would be better in Spanish (which saved my ass - cause sounding most authentic out of everyone else granted me a good grade regardless of all my other lacks).
    And I am going to echo what has been said about actually spending time in a country doing more than a classroom or any other preparation will ever do. Another good way of learning a language is through movies. Out of the languages I know, none of them have been through textbooks and practicing verbs - its from hearing it in action.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I don't think it's anything to do with the dominance of English worldwide, the insularity of this country, or the reluctance to learn languages in general. None of this has changed significantly enough in the past 10 years to make a difference. The article seems to also mention the levels at which the traditional languages that we learn are decreasing, but doesn't seem to mention how much courses in Mandarin, Arabic, Urdu and Cantonese are doing to level it out.

    To me it's quite simple. When I was in school (10 years ago, by a nice coincidence), you were required to take at least one language at GCSE level. Now you're not, so is it any wonder that fewer people do it at GCSE, which means fewer people do it at A-Level, which means fewer people do it at degree level? The government aims to have foreign languages in every primary school by 2010, which should increase the number of people who carry it on at GCSE level, and should hopefully increase the standard of GCSE level too.

    On another note, the article points out the value of having another language in other careers, but it doesn't seem to be shouting so loudly about making a career out of language itself. Some of the worst paid graduate opportunities are in language and translation.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    On another note, the article points out the value of having another language in other careers, but it doesn't seem to be shouting so loudly about making a career out of language itself. Some of the worst paid graduate opportunities are in language and translation.

    Very true. But using a language as a means to another job can help you out exceptionally well. I guess I myself am a good example of this. I have a language degree but chose to work in financial services. I'd like to think that my languages played a part in my being hired and have certainly been useful since starting.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think part of it is because when you go to university to do a degree, you usually pick just one discipline and languages aren't really seen as a big thing on their own. It's like something you would learn in a night course or on the side of your degree.

    I'm not being snobby though, I realise languages are incredibly important, just for me doing languages at university seems to set you up to be a translator or something which isn't something I wanted to do. I'd still love to learn more languages, but its getting round to doing it....
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Is French a difficult language to learn? Yes, and I should know. I spent five years at school studying it up to GCSE level. How the hell I got that C grade, I'll never know. I was being taught by a man who was French himself, and I still couldn't get it right.

    This is certainly not the fault of universities. They seem to bend over backwards in their attempts to fill their coffers. Even now, I'm getting begging letters from MMU trying to persuade me to still go to their university next month - they just can't seem to take the hint that I'm not interested anymore. No, the rot starts much earlier down the line. My understanding is that it was once compulsory to study a foreign language up to the age of 16. These days, it's voluntary, and most people choose not to bother. I'm one of few who did, and I wish I hadn't wasted my time on it, frankly.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Very true. But using a language as a means to another job can help you out exceptionally well. I guess I myself am a good example of this. I have a language degree but chose to work in financial services. I'd like to think that my languages played a part in my being hired and have certainly been useful since starting.

    Do you do that with only a language degree though, or do you have another degree or a joint degree? It seems to me that without other skills, it's very difficult to use languages in anything other than things like translation, which doesn't pay very well.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I wonder how the decline compares to other 'traditional' subjects. Language degrees are hard work, and I would guess don't really exist at a lower level. How many people are going for the 'easier' options of more vocational degrees like media/business realising that if you want a 2.1 classed degree it's going to be far easier to get it that way than by taking the extra year and doing a language degree.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Do you do that with only a language degree though, or do you have another degree or a joint degree? It seems to me that without other skills, it's very difficult to use languages in anything other than things like translation, which doesn't pay very well.

    Like ShyBoy, this is a common misconception amongst non-linguists; that by studying languages, we're merely setting ourselves up for a career in interpreting / translating. I did Spanish and Russian. Nothing else. And the thought of doing a career based around translation or interpreting appeals to me about as much as a kick in the nuts.

    Of all the combined 100 or so people on my two courses, of the ones with whom I'm still in contact, I know about two who are doing translation / interpreting. The rest (and vast majority I hasten to add) are embarking on a wide variety of careers in fields as diverse as publishing, hospitality, law and business.

    What other skills are you referring to? You don't need an accountancy degree to do accounting, business degree to do business etc. etc. These things can be taught. Now granted, you can't become a doctor without a degree in medicine but for most careers, whilst there may be some period of additional study (law, accountancy, banking), most companies will take people with any degree simply as a degree shows that you can work hard, apply yourself and produce the goods.

    Languages taught me an appreciation for different ways of doing things. The literature side of it taught me careful analysis, meticulous research, a keen eye for detail and above all, communication skills. These are things that employers look for as the practical knowledge can be taught. Though I can't speak for every language graduate, I can speak for myself and I'd like to think that the skills I gained and honed during my degree had a part to play in my receiving a performance bonus after only 4 months with the company I work for whereas the 16 other grads on my particular grad scheme, all with business/accounting/economic degrees didn't. Now I don't say this to boast (did I mention I work for the 5th largest bank in the world? :D), merely to demonstrate that having a degree in languages is no barrier to success in fields unrelated to languages and employers, for the most part, recognise this.

    Scary - the worst of it is, I did a four-year degree and only got a BA! And not one of your silly BAs that magically becomes an MA in 5 year's time! (though if I remember correctly, you have a MSc or MEng anyways?)
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru

    Languages taught me an appreciation for different ways of doing things. The literature side of it taught me careful analysis, meticulous research, a keen eye for detail and above all, communication skills. These are things that employers look for as the practical knowledge can be taught. Though I can't speak for every language graduate, I can speak for myself and I'd like to think that the skills I gained and honed during my degree had a part to play in my receiving a performance bonus after only 4 months with the company I work for whereas the 16 other grads on my particular grad scheme, all with business/accounting/economic degrees didn't. Now I don't say this to boast (did I mention I work for the 5th largest bank in the world? :D), merely to demonstrate that having a degree in languages is no barrier to success in fields unrelated to languages and employers, for the most part, recognise this.

    If you don't mind me asking, what do you do?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Dear Wendy wrote: »
    If you don't mind me asking, what do you do?

    Check your mailbox :)
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Mine will indeed be an MEng when I eventually get there (and the pretend MA several years later, but give me the MEng over that anyday).

    The 4 years studying/as part of your course in exchange for a BA was what I was thinking, with uni courses costing more and more I know I would think twice about doing a language degree if I knew it would cost me another year of time and student debt to get what at a glance is the same BA I could get in 3 years.
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