Do young people in the UK care about language learning? With A-level enrollments for languages down in recent years and acceptances for language degrees last year at a decade low, the simple answer seems to be no. Or at least less than before. This is disconcerting news for a country not exactly renowned for its multilingualism.
However, research carried out for the Guardian and the British Academy by polling organization ICM paints a much more nuanced picture of young people’s attitudes in the UK. Those engaging in language skills may have declined, but of the 1,001 young people aged 14-24 interviewed in the survey, almost 20% already speak another language at home with their family , and 70% would be interested in learning another language. in the future.
The survey also reveals a conflict at the heart of young people’s attitudes. The recognition of the ways learning a language can help open up your future – economically, culturally and socially – is there. But this awareness goes hand in hand with the fact that being born English is both a blessing and a curse: 39% are put off by the perception that “most people speak English” and 14% by the idea that “most other languages are not.” useful”.
Here are some key findings from the survey:
The main advantage of learning a language is to find a job abroad
When asked to choose the top three benefits of learning a language, respondents saw a strong economic argument. Job prospects at home and abroad were both key incentives.
However, it was not just about job opportunities, learning about another culture and experiencing communication also had great results.
Languages are considered too difficult to learn
So if languages give you the opportunity to make new friends and work abroad, why are young people put off? When asked to choose the top three disadvantages of learning a language, the difficulty of the learning process came out on top.
We need to make GCSE languages more interesting
Since 2004, taking a language at the GCSE is no longer compulsory. Making languages optional led to a 40% drop in participation between 2001 and 2010. So, if they had a choice, why were young people increasingly opting for a free language program? While the perceived difficulty of languages was a key reason, the idea that they were less interesting than other subjects came to mind for our young interviewees.
Interestingly, the low level of confidence in speaking another language also played a role in this decision.
Studying a language doesn’t seem to get you very far
Asking respondents to comment on their ability in the language they had studied in school provided perhaps the most telling piece of data from the survey. For most languages, students do not progress – or perceive themselves to be – beyond the basic levels of the language.
Getting students out of the classroom could be the solution
The survey suggested that the ability to use a language outside the classroom and communicate with native speakers would make language learning more attractive.
When it comes to classroom instruction, young people want more interaction, more technology, and more language time in schools. Food for thought for the current review of A-level languages?
Do you identify with these attitudes? Share your opinion in the comments below