English might be perceived as the lingua franca of this world, and we’ve touched on many reasons why that’s not the case, but what happens when the United Kingdom leaves the EU, leaving behind it 27 other nations who, by majority, do not have English as an official language? Will English still be listed as one of the official languages of the EU based on that lingua franca status it seems to have carved for itself? Or will another language rise up to take its place, like the widely spoken Spanish, Russian, or Mandarin that so often tops polls on most spoken languages across the globe?
We honestly have no idea.
Perhaps now is the time for UK to finally, far too belatedly, wake up to the realisation that English may not be the be all and end all of everything. That whilst its citizens have long traversed the globe with the arrogance of everyone speaks my language, that might not necessarily always be the case. What foreign languages should now be considered as a way to ease into the unknown territory that is Brexit?
This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, out-of-nowhere rationale: it seems that Britain’s interest in learning a second language has seen a surge since the decision was made to leave the European Union. The British Council has long suggested that monolingualism is an economic risk, and just about everyone, expert or not, recognises the benefit to having a second language listed on their CVs.
So without further ado, let’s look at some likely language candidates.
A quick search on job search engine Indeed currently lists more than 1800 jobs requiring German. That might not really come as a surprise, since German is the most widely-spoken language in Europe. German is actually a very good option for native English speakers, because despite its perceived difficulty, there are a lot of similarities between the two languages, which makes sense really, since English is a West Germanic language.
Looking at Indeed again for convenience and/or consistency, jobs asking for French speakers exceeds 1600. French is spoken by around 12% of Europe, which is only just behind English at its current 13%. The European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has recently shown his disdain for the idea that English is the most important language in Europe, and there is a new era in France with the appointment of Macron; surely now is the time to show a little (language) solidarity with our nearest mainland neighbours?
Because Spanish has become the shining star in language learning in the UK, with an increase in the number of learners far surpassing its nearest neighbours of French and German. There are around 400 million Spanish speakers across the world, and a vast amount of business is conducted in Spanish or is shifting to do so. Why wouldn’t Spanish be an important language for us to learn?
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Continuing the theme that European languages have the upper hand in language learning, Italian is ranked as the fourth most popular language to learn worldwide. Maybe the reason for Italian being so popular is the notion that it is a romantic language. Or perhaps the interest is a nod to the fashion industry that comes out of Italy, its cuisine, or even its furniture; Italian is often synonymous with quality, which can never be a bad thing. Or a bad reason to learn a language.
With more than 870 million Mandarin speakers around the world, interest in this language by non-native Mandarin speakers was bound to catch up sometime. A £10 million Mandarin excellence programme implemented in the UK’s schools aims to put around 5000 students on track to be fluent in Mandarin by 2020. China’s economy is booming, and with the political unrest we are currently facing perhaps it is time to acknowledge (finally) just how important a nation China really is.
Because there are so many vastly spoken languages that just don’t seem to be on our radar when it comes to language learning that could be important, such as Hindi, Arabic, and Japanese. Or maybe the idea (of some) is just to close up our borders, pull the wool over our eyes (why bother; it’s so cloudy here anyway) and just speak our native tongues. Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, etc, then.
However we view the uncertainty that is Brexit, however essential we believe English is to this world, we must remember that other languages are crucial too. Because if we have ever needed the skill of communication at any point in our lives, it is now.