Today’s EUObserver has an article about how the European Commission is struggling to find enough English language mother tongue interpreters. As everyone in Brussels works in English, so the need for Brits and Irish to speak other European languages declines – or at least that’s the gist of the article. The scrapping of compulsory language learning to GCSE level in the UK, and the subsequent decline in language graduates is also partly to blame.
This news comes at a time when, for me personally, I have never before profited so much from the languages that I speak. I’ve given interviews on TF1 and Radio Canada in French, and for Deutschlandfunk and RTL Nachtjournal in German. I really need to lose the English accent though. 🙁 I’ve launched a website for a Swedish MEP and needed knowledge of the language to make the work easier. I spent a week working in Italy where knowledge of Italian made the whole thing so much easier and even allowed me to report on the predicament of the Roma. I’ve also been able to decipher Norwegian government documents and understand an article in NRC Handelsblad in Dutch about Anyone But Barroso.
The essence of all of this is about getting my message across. That’s why I still think Welsh in Council meetings is a waste of time, but personally without my French there would have been no piece about the atheist bus campaign on Radio Canada. I would never have dared live in Berlin. I would never have ended up working on EU politics matters and feeling completely at home in all kinds of places across Europe. And especially the last couple of months have been such fun with languages – oh for more Brits to be able to be equally inspired.
Your love is shared. These days I am dealing with four languages daily (with some people I speak in all four of them), and I still feel ashamed not to speak the fifth language that is floating around me.
And the more languages you speak, the more flexible you are, especially since you would miss some important messages (or don’t get them out as in your case) if you would not speak them, and in particular because you don’t depend on others when you want to communicate with others.
The latter is rather important if you want to advance with certain projects. When things just depend on you – because you have all necessary language skills – then you can push forward much quicker. And there is nothing better than getting things done!
So in this case, reducing yourself to English in a unified Europe is nice but not sufficient to advance. If British and Irish start to understand this, their desire to learn languages will come back quite quickly.
Apart from the fact that languages should be made compulsory in the UK again (though in Northern Ireland a lot of schools have decided to keep it as a compulsory subject anyway), languages need to be taught in a more interesting way. By which I mean more talking, as it seems to be taught as writing with orals and listening exercises only carried out in the run up to major exams.
I’d like to think that I am inspired to some extent to learn languages (I take a few beginners’ classes) but I don’t have the natural gift for them, and little time to practice. It’s really something that has to be emphasised at school. For my (extremely limited) German, I can practically only read and (to a lesser extent) write, and I wish I had been forced to speak it more at school so I would be more confident to try it out. That said, it does make me feel a lot more at home in Germany than most other member states (even Britain, for some reason).
I share your love of foreign languages. I think part of the problem for the English is that they are too timid to try in case they make a fool of themselves, and just as they’re hesitating, someone addresses them in English. I also blame our school system, but I won’t go on.