As citizens of multicultural Britain and multilingual Europe, how well equipped are we with the linguistic competence and knowledge required to prosper in an increasingly global society?
This was the issue discussed in detail by Professor Pam Moores at her inaugural lecture, which examined the power of languages and its increasing importance in modern society.
Professor Moores highlighted the issues currently facing Britain in an increasingly global world, which requires graduates to poses multiple language skills.
Prof Moores discussed the ‘English Paradox’ which is the complacency often displayed in UK in regards to foreign languages. This includes a level of assumption from the UK that other nationals will know English as a language, removing the incentive to learn others.
She suggested that myths such as 75% of the world speaking English help to bolster these misguided beliefs, with far fewer people speaking English than believed.
Prof Moores added; “It is simply no longer viable in today’s modern world to simply be content with having English as a one and only language. As globalisation continues we will increasingly see the need for UK graduates and general citizens to possess multiple language skills if the UK is going to continue maintain strong trade with Europe and the wider world. For example whilst the UK represents 12% of the EU’s population it at current makes up only 6% of staff based at the European Union.”
She believes this issue is only set to worsen with more than 40% of the UK nationals currently working in European Union departments set to retire within the next 10 years and too few graduates to replace them.
In addition Britain as a nation performs the poorest of all European Union countries in term of language skills and language knowledge.
Prof Moores believes this is partly down to the stigma surrounding languages in term of students viewing them as a difficult choice of subject and children from higher social and economic classes having greater access to language learning.
She believes children from all backgrounds need to be introduced to multiple languages from an earlier age, to build up their skills base and encourage study at further and higher education level.
Projects such as Roots and Links into Languages will also help to address these issues, but Prof Moores emphasised how lack of government funding for several schemes could jeopardise this outlet.
Words by Lawrence Heath