Politics is, of course, that constant stream of people looking to dip their wicks into the honey of the tax pot. We should thus be examining each and every claim to see whether we’d like to succumb to the passion of satiating such desires. Some of these claims work at a logical level – yes, we need sailors to guard against the Frenchies. Some of them don’t meet that logic test, we do not need to be sponsoring Ethiopia’s Spice Girls.
Some of them are just mangled demands for our money that can be dismissed out of hand. So it is with this demand for a national languages strategy:
Entries for GCSEs in French and German have dropped significantly in recent years, and headteachers have previously called for exams to be made easier to prevent the subjects from dying out altogether.
“The slump in foreign languages is of real concern, particularly in a post-Brexit economy when linguists will clearly be needed for international relations and trade,” Mr Barton added.
Look, dingbat, we’ve just decided that we’ll be trading less with Germans and French folks. More with people who are not German and French. Quite why you assume this means we need more German and French speakers is unknown.
“This feeds through from a decline in language take-up in schools which has happened because of teacher shortages, funding pressures, and pupil perceptions that these are difficult subjects which are graded severely and that English is a lingua franca.”
Ah, there’s the known to replace the unknown. It’s a call for us to spend more money on teachers of French and German. Well, OK, let us consider the grander claim being made so that we can judge the merit of the call:
Britain risks becoming a “monolingual society” after Brexit, headteachers have warned after new figures showed the number of students taking languages degrees has declined by over a third.
Well, do we risk becoming a monolingual society?
There are fewer foreign nationals living in the UK than there are people born in other countries. In 2019 there were approximately 6.2 million people with non-British nationality living in the UK and 9.5 million people who were born abroad.
It seems unlikely. Foreigners tend to speak in foreign and at least some of those millions will come from non-English speaking countries. We even have an idea of how many:
400,000 Polish speakers enough? 140,000 Froggie mutterers?
In 2020, just 3,830 students took language degrees, down from 6,005 in 2011.
The number of degree takers in languages is somewhere between a rounding error and pissing in the wind compared to the language speaking resources of the nation.
Sometimes the supplicants for our tax favours are rightly told to bugger off. This is one of them.