As we head towards the beginning of the academic year, I can’t help but wonder what it’s going to bring. And this reflection often goes towards the amazing times I’ve already had here and the choices I’ve made that lead towards those experiences. In terms of my choice of courses, I know that one of the best decisions I made was choosing to take a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course both in year 1 and 2. Being one of the courses I most enjoyed here, it obviously made me sad to hear that Language courses are experiencing a major drop at the moment in the UK.
As an international student, it’s a tad obvious that I fully support and understand the value of learning a foreign language (duh, without it, I wouldn’t be here). However, through my TEFL courses, I got a sound understanding of why in Britain languages are pretty much ignored. When the majority of the world is either a native speaker or a fluent second language speaker of English, why would you bother to learn other languages?
Even if the first (and sometimes only) function of a language is communication, there are many things that come with the process of acquiring it. As universities minister David Willetts points out in The Observer, how can we truly understand other cultures if we don’t study their language, anthropology, politics, philosophy or history?
If we truly want to live in and comprehend what an international environment is, we have to start with the basics: understanding each other and our different cultures. The majority of the world’s countries have become dependent on learning English (either for jobs, entertainment or using the Internet – 55% of websites are in English). It can be argued that English has already become the global language and there’s no need for English speakers (especially native ones) to learn another language. However, don’t non-native speakers get the advantage in this situation? They have not only a new means of communication, but also a combined knowledge of their own culture and the one that the new language immerses them in.
Another incentive to study a foreign language (especially at University) is the fact that the jobs that require this skill are currently on the rise. Be it UK embassies or EU institutions, languages play an important role in the country’s international business and diplomatic power – and there are not enough people that fill in this job requirement at the moment.
So when choosing those free choice modules this year, don’t think about what’s going to be easiest for you to do, but what will help your future career. No matter what course you’re doing, the university offers you the opportunity to study French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian or Chinese (Mandarin) as part of your degree. Even if you choose to do only a Stage 1 module in your first year, it’s a great chance to get to know another culture and maybe discover a way into a new job. I can guarantee you will get full support from your tutors if you want to further develop your language skills and get insight into a successful job market.