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As a French Language student, one of the most common questions I get asked about my course is, “What’s the point?”, quickly followed by, “everyone speaks English anyway.” But this is a myth that’s worked its way into our identity as Anglophones, with most people dropping language subjects after their GCSEs. Although it is a widely spoken language, this over-reliance on English is mistaken – unless, of course, you consider approximately 20% of the global population as “everyone”. I’m not saying that’s a small percentage, but it’s very far from including the entire world, and that’s why I want to talk about the reasons why native English speakers do still need to learn foreign languages.
Only knowing one language can be fine if you stay in the safe realm of Anglophone countries but if you want to travel abroad, chances are you’ll end up visiting somewhere where English is not the official language. In fact, in some countries, English is still barely spoken – according to The Telegraph, over 99% of people in China don’t consider themselves English speakers. So, if you want to communicate when abroad, learning a bit of the language before setting off on your travels might be more necessary than you think.
I also think it’s a little rude to expect other people to ‘just speak English’ for you when you’re visiting their home country. Of course, it’s not realistic to learn an entire language fluently before going away. Still, some attempt to understand and speak the basics, along with learning a bit about national customs and traditions, could go a long way in being polite and showing your appreciation for the nation acting as your host.
I’ve also been told that there are only two career paths available for me as a French student: teacher or translator. While these certainly are options for someone wishing to pursue a career specifically in languages, it’s also true that employers across a variety of jobs value foreign language skills.
Due to a rise in globalisation, many companies need employees who can communicate with their colleagues across the world, as well as making connections with international clients, not all of whom are going to be fluent English speakers. So, learning a foreign language is not only useful on your holidays but can also be a great way to enhance your CV and get your dream job, whatever that may be.
Finally, no matter what your native language is, learning another language can also bring several health benefits. Studies by the University of Chicago have found that speaking multiple languages can heighten your awareness in complex situations, thus improving your ability to problem-solve. It also helps to keep your brain active, which, in turn, can delay the onset of dementia. In one of the most extensive studies of the effects of bilingualism and dementia, scientists found that bilingual patients developed the disease an average of five years later than those who could only speak one language.
Now the myths have been dispelled, why not try learning a language? There are plenty of cheap and non-time-consuming ways to do so. The free app, Duolingo, teaches thirty-five languages through various interactive tasks and podcasts. Or, if you prefer a more personal approach, there are extra-curricular language classes here at the university. You can find out more about these on the Lancaster University Culture Society’s Facebook page, which offer courses in languages from French to Mandarin at beginner, intermediate, and advanced level. Who knows, you might even live for an extra five years.