I appeared on a programme on the English version of the radio station Voice of Russia earlier this week (listen to the programme, or read the transcript here). The title was Is Britain a Nation of Monoglots? My view on that subject is that, no, we are not, despite our poor reputation for learning languages. I can handle conversations quite comfortably in French, German and Russian, and that’s thanks to first learning those languages at a fairly ordinary school, and then continuing at university – and I’m not particularly unusual, I don’t think.
Another member of the discussion panel was a young man Alex Rawlings, who has been described as ‘Britain’s most multi-lingual student’, given that he speaks eleven languages. He writes a blog on language learning.
When people talk about every other nationality’s prowess at speaking foreign languages, they usually don’t mean foreign languages at all, they mean prowess at speaking English. If you live in Romania, Vietnam, Mexico, Austria or wherever, it is pretty much a no-brainer that the best language to learn as a first foreign language is English. Things are not as clear-cut for English-speaking countries. Is French more useful than Spanish? Will we all need Mandarin Chinese to boost our career prospects in ten years’ time? Who knows?
In Britain there are people learning lots of different languages including Danish, Hungarian, Catalan, African languages, Cornish and many others. And that is the situation in small towns up and down the country, it’s not just London – have a look at the offering of the local adult education institute.
The Voice of Russia programme is here.