Home Politics Post-Brexit Languages - How Credulous Do These People Think We Are?

Post-Brexit Languages – How Credulous Do These People Think We Are?

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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.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Spend more money, hire more teachers so that previous French classes crammed to the eyebrows with 8 pupils can be reduced to a more reasonable load of 4 pupils per teacher. Actually I’ve seen enough movies to know that for French, one to one is the ideal teacher-student ratio. And of course for each additional 3 extra teachers we need an administrator, and for every 3 administrators we need an administrative administrator, and so ad infinitum.

  2. A 78 year old friend received a letter from the NHS (not her GP practice) asking if she’d like to book a covid vaccine jab. Accompanying this was a letter giving the details in:
    Arabic, English, Bengali, Spanish, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kurdish, Chinese, Nepali, Punjabi, Polish, Romanian, Somali, Albanian, Tagalog and Urdu.
    Why no French, German, Greek Italian etc. etc. etc?

  3. You’ve mistyped that penultimate sentence, putting “are” instead of “should be”. Alas, the way you’ve put it is not true often enough.

  4. The foreign-language figures in that table are for those whose native language is not English. For accurate translation of foreign languages INTO English, the rule is that the translator must always be a native English speaker. It’s the only way to get a translation which doesn’t read like something out of Google Translate.

    I spent several years back in the ’80s translating patents and medical literature, where getting it precisely right was utterly essential, and can assure you that we do need a certain number of native English speakers with good and detailed knowledge of French, German and everything else, just to keep the legal engine alone running smoothly.

    Whether we actually need more of them is another matter, of course. (I got out of it all those years ago because the pay was rubbish, which would suggest we might already have enough.) But I thought the point needed making.

    • Presumably, you’ve got the knowledge of the (two) language(s) involved, plus some sort of specialist domain knowledge to spot the specific errors that would cause serious grief.

      Which is easier to a) learn or b) automate?

      (Briefly knew someone doing translation work around 2008 or so – pay was still shit.)

      • Ditto – knew somebody where translating work was such shit pay, getting elected as a local councillor was a pay rise.
        (And before you rant about how much councillors are paid, it’s shit. 11K a year for a full-time job when I was one eleven years ago. It was less than minimum wage then, and it’s less than minimum wage now.)

    • I’ve done some work taking stuff translated by non-native speakers and cleaning it up so, yes, I take the point. But it’s also true that a large number of those foreign born will end up producing properly bilingual children along the way….

  5. Speaking another language is wonderful, if only for the insights it grants into another culture. But if your primary language is English, the practical value is quite small, it being useful mainly (a) for holidays and (b) if you want to work in a foreign country. And the latter only applies to a local operation – most multinationals insist on English as their primary language, even the French one I used to work for.

    There, I was given 1-1 tuition to improve my O-level French to the point where I could communicate with my colleagues in the Paris Head Office, but in practice, after a few minutes of politesse we would usually drop back into English because, while I spoke French once or twice a week, they were using English once or twice an hour, to talk to German, Japanese, American (etc) colleagues. And if there’s a multinational meeting, what’s the common language likely to be?

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