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The vital importance of languages post-Brexit
 Prompted in part by the Labour government’s decision, in 2004,
no longer to make the learning
of a modern foreign language compulsory after the age of 14, the study of European languages, such as French, Italian, and German,
has been reducing for years, with Spanish not far behind.
In recent years, 50 modern foreign language departments have
closed in the UK’s universities.
The introduction of the English Baccalaureate, designed in part
to reverse this trend, has had limited impact. Furthermore, there is already a signi cant shortage
of modern foreign language teachers, in spite of incentives introduced by the government to encourage enrolment in teacher training colleges. The uncertainty surrounding the future employment and residency status of European Union nationals, in the wake of Brexit, will not incentivise native speakers to apply for jobs as M.F.L. teachers in UK’s schools.
Brexiteers have trumpeted the new opportunities that will undoubtedly arise for Britain
to use its potentially greater independence to develop its own trade agreements with countries outside the EU. Experts are saying that English will become one of
a small number of major global languages that will become even more widely spoken in the future. Yet the ability to develop language skills to a good level and, perhaps, more importantly, to increase cultural awareness, will become,
if anything, more essential in the post-Brexit world.
Experts predict that our increasingly populous world will become even more internationalised and inter- connected. The ability to form good relationships will be facilitated by the ability to communicate,
even at a basic level, with non- English speakers. More critical to cultivating positive interactions with people from other races will
be gaining an understanding of their cultural norms: something that has traditionally been gained through the learning of modern foreign languages, exchange visits and trips to non-English speaking countries. There is potentially a cost attached to the decline in learning languages: Professor James Foreman-Peck was commissioned to write a report by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to assess the impact of the UK’s de ciency in language skills. He believes that the  nancial impact will be to the tune of £48 billion.
At Bickley Park, boys are taught French from nursery to Year 8 and Spanish from Year 6-8. The school remains committed to teaching modern foreign languages to a high standard: in recent years, boys have sat GCSE Spanish in Year 8 and almost always achieved A or A* grades, even after just three years of study. Once you have mastered one or two languages, each time it generally becomes easier to learn others. In addition, World Culture Lessons have been introduced at the school. These sessions expose younger learners to a major world country for a term, using native speakers to introduce the language, at a conversational level, and culture of the country.
The languages/customs studied have included Russian, Chinese
and Arabic, with half a term spent studying sign language. The lessons have excited an interest in learning languages whilst engendering an awareness of the amazing world
in which we live. The educational rationale behind World Culture lessons is that they contribute towards developing an awareness of other mainstream cultures that will hopefully facilitate the boys’ ability to forge relationships in a more globally interconnected world.
There are lessons to be learnt from how language learning is being promoted in other countries. An interesting article, written by Greek American entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, entitled ‘Reinventing Our Kids’ Education’, in which he envisions the sort of education he would like his six year old twin boys to receive, speaks about bringing language learning to life through the use of technology. In a visit to China, he saw languages being taught on tablets where children were playing on-line games, but only in French: the desire to win was resulting in rapid learning. Virtual reality technology could allow future learners to
walk around Italy in a VR world, interacting ‘with AI game characters who teach, engage them, and share the culture and language in the most personalised and compelling fashion possible.’
Here’s an interesting question: Which individual, in history, has spoken the most languages?
A Google search provides this answer: ‘Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar
Mezzofanti, born in 1774, spoke 38 languages and 40 dialects. The 10th-century Muslim polymath Al-Farabi was reputed to know
70 languages. The German Hans Conon von der Gabelentz, born in 1807, researched and published grammars of 80 languages. The record, though, probably belongs to Sir John Bowring, Governor
of Hong Kong from 1854 to 1859, who was said to know 200 languages, and was capable of speaking 100.’
My great-great-great grandfather was John Mason Neale who was a famous hymn writer, producing works like ‘Good King Wenceslas’. He was  uent in nine languages, both ancient and modern, and became a proli c translator of ancient hymns to the extent that he appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the person with the greatest number of entries in The English Hymnal.
Perhaps the polyglots cited by my Google search and my great- great-great grandfather might have been able to learn even more languages, and about their many and varied cultures, if they had had access to the technological tools potentially available to future language learners.
The one thing, above all, that our exit from the European Union must not prompt is an increase in insularity. Children need constantly to be reminded of the riches that are to be found in the diversity and variety waiting to be discovered
in the 195 countries and 6,909 languages of our world.
Newspaper columns and the airwaves are currently  lled with
talk of ‘Brexit’ and its future impact on Britain and its people. Uncertainty stalks the land, nowhere more so than amongst those who fear that the decision to leave the E.U. will accelerate the already steady decline in the learning of modern foreign languages in the U.K.’s schools and universities. Patrick Wenham, Head of Bickley Park School, Kent, re ects...
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