“Everyone speaks English anyway!”


By the time you read this, summer will be over and hopefully those who journeyed abroad will have returned safe, sound and lobster red to good old Blighty.

Whilst abroad some of you will have blended in seamlessly with the locals, talking to them in their own language and generally demonstrating what fantastic “international citizens” you are. However most of you, myself included, will be demonstrating just how British you are by speaking that language that transcends all borders and nationalities, i.e. very slow English with a lot of hand gestures.

Yes, Britain as a whole is pretty terrible at learning other languages, the best most of us can manage is “gracias”, “danke” or “merci” and instead rely on everyone else to speak the English. And a lot of the time we’re not disappointed. Over 80% of European school children learn English as a second language. Bored kids up and down the UK shout at their language teachers “everyone speaks English anyway!” and according to those statistics maybe they have a point.

In terms of residents that can speak other languages, Britain trails behind the rest of the continent. Instead of suave bi-linguist tourists the UK is exporting people who want to get smashed, watch the footy and re-enact their favourite their favourite Fawlty Towers moment in Berlin city centre. Our reputation abroad leaves a bit to be desired.

Like many of you I had to attend compulsory language classes in school in an effort to ensure that no Brit would ever have to shamefacedly mumble “no habla Esponal” at the bar again. Much to my teacher, my parents and my own surprise I managed to get a respectable B in GCSE German and to no-one’s surprise I got a less respectable D in Spanish. On the surface it would seem as though the government’s plan to expand our minds has worked (kind of) however the vision does fall down a bit when you actually ask me to speak German.

“Erm… Guten… no wait hang on….. um… Sprechen sie Englisch?” In the few years I’ve stopped attending German lessons I have almost completely forgotten the entire language. In fact my memory only really covers basic greetings and rude words I looked up in German dictionaries during lessons. I’m not alone in this regard, plenty of people I’ve met have confessed to being nowhere near as adept at other languages as their personal statement and CV imply.

So should we just give up then? No! A lot of people in this country can speak other languages perfectly and the advantages of being able to do this are immense. At this rate when we come out of uni the only jobs left will be joining the riot police to stop more people smashing up Currys however there is nothing employers love more than people who can speak other languages. Also wouldn’t it be nice to speak to someone in their own language instead of being put to shame by 12-year-old French schoolchildren? So for those of us that can only speak English maybe it’s time we made more of an effort when it comes to other languages. Capiche?

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