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Learning a Second Language is an Asset

Academics in the UK have warned about the decrease in number of students learning a second language in schools. Despite the warnings, the rate of enrolment for foreign languages in GCSEs continues to drop.

Experts said this decline in foreign language learning has something to do with the British attitude to languages. It seems that Britons believe that learning a second language is a sign of weakness. Many agree that this is to a certain extent true because English is the world dominant business language. However, the new conservative government has complained that we will not have any Britons working in the European Commission in the future if this attitude continues. This is because the majority of our younger generations do not speak another European language fluently. The European Commission currently requires their job applicants to take entry exams in another language other than their mother tongue. Naturally, Britons fall short of this criteria. The consequences are likely to be as bad as the government fears, in that we will not have new generation of Britons inside the European Commission to influence important regulation drafting and policy decisions.

What can we learn from other countries?

Yes, it is true that many students pick up some form of foreign language studies, but the majority of them will only do it for one semester. Learning a second language cannot be done in a few semesters, let alone one. It can only be done over a sustained period of study. A beginner will typically take about 4 to 5 years of regular studies before they can master a language fluently.

So, what we really need is to encourage our children to take foreign language learning seriously, just like any other subjects such as maths or biology. Some even went further by suggesting that the government should step in to introduce compulsory second language classes for pupils all over UK. This might not be a bad idea as it has been done in many other countries around the world. Our European counterparts have integrated English lessons into their formal education system long before. Most students in Germany, France and Poland would have studied English for a few years in their secondary schools.

Turning to the Far East, China teaches their students English for a few hours a week starting from primary school while Mandarin Chinese is used as the primary medium of instruction for all other subjects. This system is also being administered in Singapore but with English being used as the primary medium of instruction and Mandarin Chinese being taught as a foreign language. These students have been graduating from their high school as bilingual or sometimes multilingual. As a result, they are far more ready to take on international business and trade compared to our UK students who are only limited to jobs in English speaking countries.

Independent research in the United States has shown pupils who are capable of speaking and writing two languages would generally do better in maths compared to students who only spoke English. It seems that being bilingual does have certain correlations with intellectual ability. Some experts commented that the learning of a new language helps to develop our intelligence further and this phenomenon is also more prevalent amongst younger children.

Thus, learning a second language should not be taken as a sign of weakness, on the contrary, it will provide you with more economic opportunities around the world and at home.

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