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In the headlines this week there have been stories on the decrease in language courses on offer as a result of reduced interest. Being a language student I find this appalling. According to UCAS there has been a 40% drop in universities offering specialised modern language courses in the past 15 years, leaving just 56 institutions running such courses. It also revealed that the traditional four languages have experienced change in popularity. Where German was always the second most popular language, this has now seen a fairly significant drop and has been overtaken by Spanish. As a result, departments have shut down at universities such as Brighton, and institutions such as Goldsmiths now only offer a language alongside another course. Of course, languages such as Russian, Chinese and Arabic are on the increase but only at “Red Brick” universities. The Guardian pointed out that UCLAN is the other post-92 university to offer Russian as a subject.
It makes me wonder why. Multilingualism is so incredibly important for communication. Why are they being removed as choices from our higher education? Is this another form of colonialism? Has the English language conquered the world so much that, as a nation, we are so arrogant to think there is no necessity to master another language, or at least to attempt to? Are we enforcing it on the rest of the world? This was the impression I got whilst on my ERASMUS year.
There seems to be an international passion for the English language with the atmosphere that it’s a language people ‘need’ to be able to speak. Don’t get me wrong; this has its advantages. When you’re stranded abroad and can’t quite remember how to order that steak you want, it’s great that you can drop into English and people will understand you. But why should they? So many courses at Lyon University, where I studied at last year, had a compulsory language as a minor and so many students took English. Yet at the same time, the institution offered such a breadth of languages including Russian, Japanese and Mandarin as a beginners or advanced course, it made me wonder why so many people were bothered about English.
While it makes for an easier travelling experience for us, there is something incredible about being able to engage with someone in a different language. Call me geeky, but I think it’s pretty amazing. Consider how long it takes at such a young age to master your mother tongue; then consider the exposure to that language you have. Now consider how many people have some knowledge (regardless of how little or how large) of another language. And how many people have mastered more than just one additional language. To think you’re better than another and not even attempt to speak their language is nothing short of ignorant and arrogant.
Perhaps this arrogance combined with the rest of the world’s passion for English is the reason for England’s educational system’s decline in languages on offer. Even here in Lancaster, we are seeing a drop in the languages on offer. Students applying to join us in 2014 no longer have the option to learn Italian, one of the four languages offered when I applied four years ago. If we’re not careful, the same thing will happen for the other languages on offer and we shall fall into the same trap as Goldsmiths. Before we know it, Lancaster will disappear into the sea of universities who can no longer support any capacity of an education in languages. As a language student, I think this would be such a shame; one of the main advantages of the format of Part One here is the ability to start something completely new and continue to study this for the following two years. The DELC department tries hard to promote languages to freshers and offers them as ab initio (beginner level) to cater for all; and for those who don’t want to study it formally the University offers a multitude of societies to support such a passion. The French Society, German Society, Latin American Society and LULANGs which caters for French, Italian, Spanish and German – just to name a few. As a community, I think it’s our responsibility to maintain this; it’s far better to be one of those 56 that does offer it that just another university that can’t quite handle it.