A decline in language learning is bad news for Britain, both culturally and economically
To have another language is to possess a second soul.
This summer it was revealed that the study of French and German in UK schools has dropped by half over the past five years. A general decline in language learning at A level and above is bad news for 21st century Britain. Learning different languages opens the door to fuller appreciation of different cultures and on the most basis economic level, it sends career prospects soaring. While English remains a global lingua franca, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French and German are all growing much faster in online usage.
As a 2019 honours graduate in French and Spanish, Conversis Project Manager Alice Obradovic is in a good position to assess the situation:
I don’t believe the learning gradient between GCSE level and A level encourages young people to learn a second language. Passing a language GCSE is fundamentally a memorising exercise. When you get to A level, you’re asked to demonstrate a degree of fluency. It’s like asking a Maths student to go from reciting a multiplication table to analysing the theory of relativity. And from a cultural perspective, a young person growing up in, say, France will have easy access to different languages via many different media. In the UK that simply isn’t the case. Think of the opportunities we’re withholding from young people who may never discover the pleasures and practical benefits of truly immersing themselves in another culture.
Aside from boosting employability, what are the practical benefits? John O’Keefe, one of Britain’s finest clinicians, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his fascinating study of the internal mapping of the human brain. Along with May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser he shone a light on the Sat Nav system we all have inside us. For anyone interested in the functions of the human brain, or simply curious as to how we find our way home from work every day, this research has meaning. It helps to explain why Alzheimers sufferers lose the ability to recognize their surroundings, and on a more positive note it helps us understand how some people retain information exceptionally well.
So what can we do to keep our minds fresh? Alice Obradovic has a suggestion:
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that stores and consolidates information into long-term memories and spatial navigation. A 2012 study at Lund University in Southern Sweden revealed that language learning provides ideal training for the brain, actually causing parts of the hippocampus and cerebral cortex to grow. Students introduced to Arabic and Russian found that their ability to absorb and retain information was enhanced in ways that general education couldn’t achieve.
Language learning makes you more receptive to new information and better able to retain it.
It makes you cleverer for longer.
This won’t come as a surprise to linguists. Speaking one language while balancing the nuances of a second requires a speed of thought and multitasking ability that most professionals can’t match.
In addition, Alice Obradovic sees an interesting parallel between mental direction and commercial direction
Our brains retain information in ways that are both highly sophisticated and very simple. They track where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Conversis clients come to us because they want the same sense of direction for their business. I’m delighted to be part of a team that delivers precisely that service.
Be kind to your mind. It’s the least you owe yourself.
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