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It’s a small world after all

With the rise of globalisation, evolving technologies like social media and the increasing ease of international travel, the world is getting smaller. But as different countries and cultures become more accessible, language learning in the UK is still lacking. How can we address this linguistic deficit and ensure we continue to play a part on the world stage?

 

English remains an international language, and if it’s easy for native speakers to make their way in the world, what’s the incentive to learn a second language? Beyond the professional opportunities it opens up – seven out of ten businesses in the UK value language skills in their employees – language learning has huge personal benefits too. It promotes tolerance, empathy and understanding, enabling us to engage with different people and cultures on a more meaningful level. Languages boost creativity and communication, enhance memory and critical-thinking – all skills that will prove essential to today’s students as they enter the global marketplace.

 

But according to the European Survey of Language Competences, the achievement of pupils in England was lower than any other country taking part. Of the 15-year-olds surveyed, 30% did not achieve any measurable level at all in the language they were studying. The numbers of students opting to take a language at A-level, or beyond, is continuing to decline, and according to a YouGov poll, 75% of respondents weren’t proficient in any of the top ten languages identified by the British Council.

 

Although this paints a bleak picture, the tides may be beginning to turn – driven in part by the rise in language-learning technologies. Apps like Duolingo and Memrise are free to download, making them accessible to a wide audience. These simple-to-follow programs use gamification to keep learners engaged, and the short lessons are easy to integrate into daily life.
Traditional textbooks and audio CDs are making way for online learning, where speech recognition software allows users to receive real-time feedback. Synchronised across devices, these technologies enable learning on the go, at a pace that suits you.

 

However, can videos and recordings really replace a real conversation? One of the most valuable things learning another language can teach us is how to communicate with others. And that demands face-to-face interaction. Technology can still play its part – for example online tutoring often leverages video platforms like Skype – but to really boost cultural awareness and interpersonal skills, it’s worth considering an evening class, time with a trained teacher or tutor, or even just a chat over coffee with a native speaker.

 

So which language should you learn? In this month’s blog we share our five favourite languages for 2019, and language tutor Timothee has some helpful hints on getting started in our interview.

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