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Why do the English need to speak a foreign language when foreigners all speak English?

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Blimey, what a start! This is the headline from The Daily Mail written by David Thomas. David appears to be a man of the world, he is by his own admission multi-lingual, well travelled and he has part Welsh and part Norwegian heritage.

So why does he reason that the world should speak only English?

According to the statistics he quotes:

  1. 380,000 teenagers in England did not take a single foreign language at GCSE last year
  2. Department for Education figures show that fewer English speakers in the UK are learning a foreign language
  3. More non-English speakers are becoming multi-lingual

David’s argument goes something like this:

  • Most of the world is learning English as a second language
  • There are several thousand languages other than English
  • Therefore it’s not efficient to learn another language

Here’s a direct quote from the article.

‘This magical language is English. It unites the whole world in the way no other language can. It’s arguably the major reason why our little island has such a disproportionately massive influence on global culture: from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, from James Bond to the Beatles.

All those foreigners who are so admirably learning another language are learning the one we already know. So our school pupils don’t need to learn any foreign tongues.’

He’s missing the point of learning a language.

Using only English is a very isolationist point of view.

From an economic point of view, English-speaking countries are struggling to keep their markets afloat as are the nations in the Euro Zone, traditionally our closest economic allies. The countries of largest growth currently; Brazil, Russia, India and China, the so-called BRIC nations, don’t have a history of speaking English (with the exception of regions of India).

Now and in the future the UK needs to trade with these countries, as does the rest of the world. If the UK doesn’t have the people who can handle the relevant languages we’re at a disadvantage from the beginning.

From a cultural point of view, if you never learn a language other than English, you’re going to miss out on so many things. How can your experience of the world as a whole be limited to only one language? Communicating is what humans do best, just because someone doesn’t use the same language as we use should we not bother to speak to them?

Just as mathematics, art and science enhance people’s lives, so do language skills.

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