A classic European Union was when I married my German wife. I met her at a party in India and surprised and impressed her when I started speaking German. This plug for learning languages always hooks students and it imbues them with a spirit of curiosity and adventure. Learning about differences captures the imagination of a child. For me learning about French meal time rituals, croissants and dipping bread in bowls of hot chocolate was enough of an incentive to make me dip my toe into another world that took me on a journey of incredible experiences.
I actually wanted to study history at university however on my Father’s insistence I studied languages and business to be prepared for the opportunities within the European Union. One reason for learning a language is that it can increase your potential earnings. In reality unless you study a language post A-level you will forget nearly all you have learnt.
A bigger case for learning a language at school is that you develop intangible skills needed for the work place ie: interpersonal skills, cultural awareness and confident communication. Furthermore the skills in learning a foreign language can help a child develop better in his own language, broaden the horizons of children and make them dream. In the past three years the amount of people doing languages at GCSE in my school has doubled. Aside from good teaching I believe that we have broken down prejudices and made languages more tantalising since children hear our multi-lingual, multinational department speak in different languages. On European Day, children play boules, taste tapas and EAL students lead classes in Dutch or Polish. They find a common purpose and identity in being European. It would be hard to conjure up the same amount of enthusiasm for Bastille Day or even St.George’s Day.
If leaving the EU means less opportunities for UK citizens to work, travel and live abroad and less exchange schemes then there will be less incentive for English pupils to learn another language. On the inverse it will be catastrophe if native French or Spanish teachers for example are prevented from working in Britain denying children an authentic experience and adding to the already existing shortage of languages teachers. The shortage could increase as less and less students take languages. I envision European languages departments becoming extinct and the UK becoming a lame mono-lingual dinosaur producing one dimensional children.
Paul Chandy teaches modern languages in South East England.