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Global English is a British wound

Language learning is hitting a low point, while xenophobia is on the rise

By Kathleen Langan


Image courtesy of Fernando (cferdo) via Unsplash


Without a doubt, language has been an important part of my life: from the moment my mother uttered the first words I would ever hear, to nowadays as a Modern Languages student. In my opinion, learning a foreign language is essential in the modern world. Not just for post-Covid holidays, but for the political and cultural wellbeing of a country many of us call home.


But, the rates of foreign language learning are declining immensely in British secondary schools and global English is a driving factor in the downturn. Since 2014, there has been a 30% decrease in the number of GCSE entries for French and German and the universal increase of English speakers is to blame. English permeates every social institution in the modern age. It dominates business, aviation, and even scientific research. Because of this, Brits are far less likely to study another language. The impact is already being felt in schools where the uptake of languages is dropping rapidly but it will also be experienced more and more elsewhere.


One of the main benefits of language learning is not only communication but the cultural awareness that it creates. Cultural awareness is of utmost importance in many sectors such as trade, negotiations and international relations. How can we negotiate effectively with Germany if we don’t have a sound knowledge of the culture? With the rising supremacy of English and the decreasing desire to become bilingual, cultural awareness will slowly disintegrate and destroy our nation from the very core. Just look at what has become of the UK since 2016: we are in a shambolic mess called Brexit due to anti-immigration politics coupled with xenophobia stemming from cultural neglect.


Now, Brexit isn’t entirely to blame. However, the rise of anti-immigration politics, nationally and internationally, plays a key role in cultural deafness. Trump’s infamous (well, I suppose it depends what side you are on) stance on immigration has infiltrated American society but has rapidly spread further afield. In 2019, refugee admissions reached an all-time low in the USA with less than 25,000 being admitted in 2018, the lowest rate the country has seen in 40 years, compared to around 51,000 the year before. It is appalling that in the 21st Century such atrocities can occur right under our noses and yet few people even catch a whiff of it.


Xenophobic political influences have crossed the pond and have washed up right here in the UK. In 2016, at the time of the EU referendum, 48% of the British public declared that immigration was a key political issue. In 2003, this figure was just 3%. Anti-immigrant attitudes were evidently not a sudden change but the result of years of tensions, stereotypes and lies surrounding people who are not of British descent. The cultural neglect is clear and is impeding our ability to progress as a society both politically and culturally.


How can we recover from this apathy towards other cultures? The solution is simple. We must revitalize language learning in the UK. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: "Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow." It is the only way to rescue this country from peril.


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