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Learn a language and prosper

28 September 2018

​Why learn another language, when so many people speak English… and for everything else there’s an app on your smart phone?

In the UK, this attitude is sadly reflected in the British Council’s research, which highlights the decline in the study of languages over the past five years, especially at A-level. However, it’s not a totally gloomy language landscape; this summer’s exam results show there has been a slight rise in pupils studying languages at GCSE level. 

Mark Herbert, director of schools and skills at the British Council, sees this as encouraging news, particularly at a time when the UK is looking to establish a new position on the global stage. He explains: “Now, more than ever, our young people need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the internationally competitive economy. We all need to encourage our young people to see the value of languages and embrace them as important subjects to study at A-level and beyond.” 

Pounds, euros and pence

Undoubtedly languages have a financial value, both for the economy and the individual; employers will pay more for bi-lingual recruits, who also have a great choice of jobs, both at home and abroad. 
However the value of bilingualism is more than an economic one and has benefits beyond the post-Brexit board room. 

Language of love

There is the obvious link to mobility; speaking another language will usually mean that you are more open and able to travel abroad for work or study, which opens up so many more opportunities, as well as giving you a wider pool of friends and colleagues. I spent a year abroad in France as part of my degree and 30 years later I am still in contact with the friends I made that year. Many people make more than friends, meeting their long term partner and having children together.

Communication, communication, communication

Interestingly, non-language students who go abroad with Erasmus+ often cite improvements in their English communication skills. Architecture student, Joseph Royle, from De Montfort University in Leicester, discovered just this. He wasn’t studying French in the UK, but says his Erasmus+ experience not only helped him to gain a wider perspective and more practical experience in his field, but also to develop his language and communication skills in both French and English. Research shows that simply exposing younger children to another language will make them better at communication.

 Joseph Royle.jpg
 Joseph Royle

Brain-changer

For me, one of the most important benefits of speaking another language is its capacity to make you more open-minded, giving you greater cultural competence, a soft skill that is far more important than team-working or time management.  It physically alters your brain, improves your memory and can even stave off dementia – the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset, even for us older learners. It gives you better cognitive skills, can make you more empathetic, better observers, better problem solvers and more creative. 

With so many benefits to learning another language, I almost forgot to mention that it can also come in handy when you go abroad and the Wi-Fi goes down! 


Jude Wood.jpg
Author: Jude Wood, British Council 

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