Just after the primary global war, the UK produced its most complete review of languages provision, the Leathes report. In the Brexit era, we’re now confronted once more with distinctive ideological, cultural and financial battles which have us inspecting the capacity of our language, and discovering it falls properly brief of what’s required.
After Brexit, we can need a sturdy language base for change, international family members and gentle power. Yet rather than a boom in languages, we’re experiencing steep decline: the quantity of contemporary languages undergraduates fell via 54% among 2008–9 and 2017–18. With fewer students applying, at least 9 modern languages departments have closed in the final decade, and plenty of others have contracted in length or decreased their variety of languages. By one estimate, the wide variety of German devices has halved from greater than eighty in 2002 to fewer than 40 today.
What can universities do to stem this decline? For starters, they want to build capability in three varieties of language graduates. First, we want all our graduates to have had their eyes opened to the world, so widening get right of entry to to elective language modules and short-time period mobility options are essential.
Second, if Brexit and the controversy over the Irish backstop have taught us something, it’s miles that we need problem professionals with language competencies – legal professionals, economists, geographers, engineers, and business graduates with the language skills to apprehend, negotiate, and argue the details.
Third, we urgently want extra language graduates with at the least two languages to degree degree to educate in schools and rebuild and sustain primary and secondary languages. A gift we hazard most state schools providing scholars best one language to GCSE and plenty of supplying none at all to A-stage, in a manner that might never be tolerated for the sciences.
To win back students, a new technique is wanted. For a maximum of the 21st century, the case for the practical application of languages has been robustly made. While this can capture policymakers’ attention, the problem is that people don’t make choices within an equal way. Although the Leathes report made the case for increasing the number of Spanish speakers one hundred years ago, it took till 2001 for candidate numbers for GCSE Spanish to fit the ones for German.
We can’t wait 80 years for languages training to recover. Instead, we need inspiring syllabuses, first-hand experience of the tradition, student ambassadors in schools to trade mindsets, precise coaching, and truthful assessment.
But similarly, we want a new narrative. The government need to exchange its tune to high school leaders, careers advisors, parents, and newcomers, and explain that languages topics at A-degree and beyond aren’t pretty much verbal exchange capabilities. They are a part of the liberal arts menu of topics that stimulate the deeper analytical, essential and creative questioning that enriches people and enhances innovation and agency in any endeavor.
It’s now not all terrible information. When Leathes wrote his file in 1918, “current languages” at university supposed French (Britain’s first foreign language for about one thousand years) and German (Britain’s 2nd foreign language because of the 1700s). Today, no matter closures and shrinkage, more universities offer tiers in greater languages, along with Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Chinese. Our tiers are ways richer than in Leathes’ day, protecting a way of life, history, society, and politics, even as our teachers’ language talents and first-hand know-how of various cultures are incomparably higher. Once we leave the EU, we need to make every attempt to preserve that pupil mobility.