The imminent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will not only force officials to search for alternative markets, but also to better train their citizens for future challenges.
One aspect in these new adjustments will be learning foreign languages. English is the most common language in the world, due in large part to the expansion of the British Empire. It’s spoken in so many places around the world that many who speak it as a first language feel no need to learn a second, though this is changing. Learning a second language opens doors, facilitates communication, and is at the top of the list of most spoken languages around the world.
When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, only two remaining countries will have English as their official language: Ireland and Malta.
Despite this, Tony Thorne, language consultant at King’s College London, maintains that: “English remains the global lingua franca not just because of the number of speakers, but also because of its soft power, and it’s global influence… It is the language of the internet, fashion and the entertainment industry”.
Nevertheless, Katrin Kohl, Professor of German at Oxford University believes that once Great Britain is no longer a central part of Europe, it could be time for other languages to rise up and gain greater status.
The impact could come not only through commercial agreements but also because of how these changes could change the academic process. The relevance of foreign languages could create an incentive to compensate the current decline in the language courses studied in the universities of the United Kingdom. Currently, one of three British people can converse in another language.
In 2013, the British Council, the state cultural institute that historically has spread the English language and culture through educational activities, published a report entitled “Languages of the future.” In light of Brexit they have resumed the previous study and this time they ranked the importance of foreign languages for the English population.
The new analysis argues that for the UK to succeed after Brexit, there must be greater awareness worldwide events and the skills the new world demands — including communication with people around the world outside the English language. However, the United Kingdom is currently facing a language deficit.
Vicky Gough of the British Council said that languages are priceless for a generation that grows in an increasingly connected world. “If the United Kingdom is going to be truly global after Brexit, languages should become a national priority.” There are few more important languages for the future prosperity of the United Kingdom than Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Arabic and German”
According to recent research, the percentage of people between 18 and 34 who can have a basic conversation in the five main languages is as follows: French (14 percent); German (eight percent); Spanish (seven percent); Mandarin (two percent) and Arabic (two percent).
Based on a “broad analysis of economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational factors,” trailing the big five languages are Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, and Russian.
In response to this situation, the British Chamber of Commerce has requested that language education be compulsory between the ages of seven and 16. In this way, a more global mentality will be forged, which would eliminate future export barriers. Currently, employer satisfaction with the language skills of recent graduates has dropped to a minimum of 34 percent.
Therefore, from November 13 to 17 the focus of the Council’s International Education Week was “to be international.” The week included events across the country on language skills with resources to support international and intercultural experience in schools.
Since language goes hand in hand with culture, understanding the codes and subtleties involved can improve understanding and forge better cooperative ties.
As the English language spread through the vast British empire, so did the Spanish language through the Spanish empire; making it the second-most spoken language in the world after English. Learning Spanish would give The United Kingdom access to an inter-continental market now that the United Kingdom has distanced itself from the European Union.