Languages in decline in the UK
Thread poster: Tina Colquhoun

Tina Colquhoun  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:11
Member (2005)
Danish to English
+ ...
Aug 26, 2010


Why we should mind our languages


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:11
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
And almost no translations Aug 26, 2010

The market share of translated fiction is only 3 percent in Britain and the US. So you don't even get in touch with us via translation. Splendid isolation, isn't it?



Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:11
French to English
+ ...
Was also quite surprised Aug 26, 2010

I didn't realise that the number of students learning languages had declined that much. I seem to recall that 20 years or so ago when I was doing GCSEs, languages were very much part of the "core" offering after maths and English, and it was pretty much expected that everybody would do at least one language.

On the other hand, most of my comrades freely admitted that they basically spent 5 years learning how to order some bread in French so poorly pronounced that if they every tried to use it, they'd probably end up with a tin of snails anyway. Having zillions of students "doing GCSE" doesn't necessarily equate with a higher number of students learning a language to a genuinely useful level.

I suspect that languages are subjects where having interaction with a teacher is particularly important. (Though I don't actually know of a study that demonstrates this-- it's just a suspicion.) I think religious studies, geography and various other subjects that have "pipped languages to the post" are increasingly vital in today's world... but they're also subjects more susceptible to learning about through reading later on. If given this argument and other means to make an informed judgement, students are still choosing not to study languages, then in a way I would say fair enough-- I don't think a solution to getting more people speaking foreign languages to a useful level is to force them into studying them.

[Edited at 2010-08-26 15:08 GMT]


Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:11
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Advance in technology? Aug 26, 2010

To study a new language, you need to spend a very long time and attempts. Now in this Internet age, we need no dictionary, translator, notebook, teacher, blackboard, translated website to English ... A computer with network links can meet with all requirements. I also avoid remembering new words recently since I can seek it quickly through googling etc.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


Trisha F  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
Interesting but... Dec 5, 2010

... I highly doubt that this occurs only in the United Kingdom. There are plenty of countries where language learning statistics are also quite poor. Language teaching in schools is often bad and it takes a little extra training to become fluent in a foreign language.

I disagree to some extent with comments like "you must live in the country where the language is spoken in order to learn it" (the author's point of view does suggest this in a way). It doesn't always work like that. Some people may spend fifty years in a foreign country and never learn a single word of the language. Living abroad does help when one has the time and determination to learn but people can learn a language in their home country with the right teachers, learning tools and attitude.

Making travelling a requisite for success discourages those who can't afford an education abroad so in the end learning languages somehow becomes an elitist activity. Actually, I have perfected my foreign languages abroad but I haven't learned a single one of them from scratch abroad. My parents never broke the bank for me to learn French when I was younger whilst other parents who did ended up with kids who had had a fantastic holiday but hadn't learned that much. In short, people and circumstances are different. Learning abroad is not a magic recipe. I get the feeling that the author is a bit snobbish, not all parents will be able to send their kids to a French course in France just because they can't spell "Au Revoir" correctly. She also insists a bit too much on the chances of getting children into Oxford, sometimes it sounds as though having bilingual children was more of a question of status for parents. Funny enough, a few readers noticed that Ms. Jardine's spelling was far from Oxford-like. All in all it is a very interesting and thought-provoking article nevertheless.

As I mentioned earlier, the United Kingdom is far from being the only country where language learning is in decline but I do notice that many people are indifferent to the importance of speaking foreign languages. There is a person I casually date, he is not impressed by the fact that I can speak more than one language and he looks a bit bored whenever I say anything slightly related to translation! It breaks my heart a little...icon_lol.gif


Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:11
French to English
+ ...
Ecce! Dec 5, 2010

Yes, it is dreadful, but look:


George Hopkins
Local time: 06:11
Swedish to English
Living abroad does have its advantages… Dec 5, 2010

My son and his family have lived in France for the past ten years, and at home they speak mainly Swedish. Recently my grandson Marcus, together with his Swedish mum, visited a specialist to check his hearing. He has a slight speech impediment so the visit was considered necessary. The doctor spoke French. After making a thorough check he asked if there was anyone in the family who had problems with their hearing. My daughter-in-law answered no, in French. Whereupon Marcus asked his mum, in Swedish, ‘What’s grandma in English?’. He then turned to the doctor and told him, in English, that ‘Oh yes, my grandma who lives in America has a hearing aid’.
The doctor concluded by saying that there was no problem whatever with Marcus’ hearing – and that he was impressed; meeting a five-year old child who could speak French, Swedish and English.


Daniel García
English to Spanish
+ ...
Foreign language learning not compulsory Dec 5, 2010

I didn't know that learning at least one foreign language has not been compulsory in the UK...

It's really interesting...



Trisha F  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
That's a very different thing. Dec 5, 2010

George, that's a lovely story and your grandson must be a charming and clever boy.

There are multilingual families obviously. Mum and Dad may be from different countries and may as well travel often. As a consequence their children will probably be fluent in several languages at a very young age. However, that was not the type of situation I was referring to.

Living abroad makes the language experience complete and far richer. In an ideal world everyone should learn this way but sadly this is not within everyone's grasp. The fact that someone does not have the money, time or opportunities to live abroad does not necessarily mean that he/she is doomed to stay monolingual if he/she is so eager to learn and finds a suitable course.

I criticised the author's snobbishness because she seems at times too concerned about status. If my child didn't write "au revoir" properly I wouldn't immediately conclude that he/she must spend a few weeks in France! What about simply telling him/her how to spell "au revoir" and helping him/her with his/her French for a start? Maybe arranging supplementary tuition would be beneficial in this case. Not all parents can suddenly say "You can't spell 'au revoir', therefore I shall send you on a trip to France." That is just ridiculous. The whole story sounds a bit laughable in the end when the author herself writes things such as "compulsary" and "kaput".

[Edited at 2010-12-05 21:36 GMT]


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