Just after the first world war, the UK produced its maximum complete overview of languages provision, the Leathes document. In the Brexit era, we’re now faced once more with different ideological, cultural and financial battles which have us inspecting our languages potential, and discovering it falls nicely short of what is required.
After Brexit, we can want a sturdy language base for exchange, international family members and tender electricity. Yet rather than a growth in languages, we’re experiencing steep decline: the variety of present-day languages undergraduates fell via fifty-four % among 2008–nine and 2017–18. With fewer students applying, at least 9 modern-day languages departments have closed inside the remaining decade, and lots of others have gotten smaller in length or decreased their variety of languages. By one estimate, the quantity of German devices has halved from extra than eighty in 2002 to fewer than forty nowadays.
What can universities do to stem this decline? For starters, they want to construct capability in three sorts of language graduates. First, we want all our graduates to have had their eyes opened to the arena, so widening get entry to to optionally available language modules and brief-time period mobility options is vital.
Second, if Brexit and the debate over the Irish backstop have taught us something, it’s far that we want concern specialists with language abilities – attorneys, economists, geographers, engineers, and business graduates with the language talents to understand, negotiate, and argue the details.
Third, we urgently need greater language graduates with at the least two languages to diploma level to educate in faculties and rebuild and sustain primary and secondary languages. At present, we danger most state schools offering pupils the most effective one language to GCSE and plenty of offering none at all to A-stage, in a manner that would never be tolerated for the sciences.
To win lower back students, a brand new approach is wanted. For most of the twenty-first century, the case for the sensible software of languages has been robustly made. While this can seize policymakers’ interest, the hassle is that individuals don’t make selections in the same way. Although the Leathes report made the case for increasing the range of Spanish audio system one hundred years ago, it took until 2001 for candidate numbers for GCSE Spanish to fit those for German.
We can’t wait 80 years for languages education to get better. Instead, we want inspiring syllabuses, first-hand revel in of the subculture, student ambassadors in colleges to change mindsets, precise coaching, and honest evaluation.
But similarly, we need a new narrative. The authorities must alternate its tune to high school leaders, careers advisors, mother and father, and inexperienced persons, and give an explanation for that languages topic at A-degree and beyond aren’t pretty much verbal exchange abilties. They are part of the liberal arts menu of subjects that stimulate the deeper analytical, crucial and creative questioning that enriches people and enhances innovation and organization in any endeavor.
It’s not all awful information. When Leathes wrote his file in 1918, “current languages” at university supposed French (Britain’s first foreign language for about a thousand years) and German (Britain’s 2d foreign language for the reason that 1700s). Today, in spite of closures and shrinkage, extra universities offer tiers in greater languages, which include Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Chinese. Our tiers are a long way richer than in Leathes’ day, covering subculture, history, society, and politics, whilst our instructors’ language competencies and first-hand understanding of different cultures is incomparably better. Once we leave the EU, we have to make each effort to keep that scholar mobility.