Monolingualism


Monolingualism

'Brexit means we can't ignore the decline of MFL'

9 March 2019 (TES)

A skill deficit that costs the UK economy an estimated 3.5 per cent of GDP.

A knowledge vacuum that 74 per cent of business leaders identify as a major barrier to career success for graduates in today’s world of work.

You may assume that I am talking about science, technology, engineering or maths – subjects which occupy so many headlines, especially where opportunities for girls and young women are concerned.

But, no.

These stats relate to foreign languages, an area that rarely attracts comment and stands pretty low on the national educational agenda at the moment.

And yet, Britain is in danger of sleepwalking into an employability crisis, as many educators continue to turn a deaf ear to the research and the warning signs highlighting a comparative skills gap for our graduates that will materially harm their employment prospects in the coming years. We are in danger of nurturing a generation of global consumers who are incapable of flourishing as global citizens, earners and opinion-formers.

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Scotland census under fire for sidelining foreign languages

28 February 2019 (The Scotsman)

The growing number of multilingual speakers in Scotland are being sidelined by the country’s census which portrays a “monolingual English-only speaking country”, experts have warned.

There are now calls for the changes to the next national census in 2021, to better reflect the “linguistic diversity” of the country. Think tank Reform Scotland says the current system “conveys a negative attitude to languages.”

MSPs will today vote on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood, but there are calls for a more suitable question about the languages spoken in Scotland.

Reform Scotland Research Director Alison Payne said: “We do not know precisely how extensively other languages are spoken in Scottish households, because sufficient data does not exist to tell us this due to the flawed nature of the census question.

“We can fix this relatively simply, by asking a better question, and indeed a question which does not suggest speaking a language other than English is a bad thing.

“A minor change will give us more accurate and better data which can help inform government strategy to encourage more people to speak more languages.”

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Babies who hear two languages at home have a better ability to concentrate

3 February 2019 (TheJournal.ie)

The advantages of growing up in a bilingual home can start as early as six months of age, according to new research.

The study led by York University’s Faculty of Health found infants who are exposed to more than one language show better ‘attentional control’ [ability to concentrate] than infants who are exposed to only one language.

Researchers said this means that exposure to bilingual environments should be considered a significant factor in the early development of attention in infancy and could set the stage for lifelong cognitive benefits.

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Bilingual pupils outperform native English

15 October 2018 (The Times)

Pupils who speak English fluently as a second language do better than native speakers throughout their whole time at school, according to a study.

The researchers found that bilingual children performed better than their monolingual classmates — and the national average — at the ages of five, seven, eleven and in GCSEs. Teenagers speaking English as a foreign language pulled ahead of native speakers in GCSEs for the first time this summer.

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Should we take a more 'German' approach to MFL?

8 June 2018 (TES)

Applies to England

If you’re a modern foreign languages (MFL) teacher, you’re probably already familiar with the horror stories about your subject: more and more schools are cutting MFL at GCSE and A level, while fewer students are expressing interest in learning them.

Despite plans to increase the teaching of Mandarin in schools, European languages have sustained some heavy losses, German faring the worst with a 38 per cent fall in GCSE student entries since 2010.

Meanwhile, the German school system is efficient at producing confident English speakers, with an EU study claiming that 56 per cent of Germans can speak English "well enough to have a conversation", and it is rare to meet a recent high school graduate from Germany without near-fluent English skills.

So, why the gaping divide?

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British 'linguaphobia' has deepened since Brexit vote, say experts

28 May 2018 (The Guardian)

Britain faces further isolation after Brexit if it doesn’t adjust its citizens’ attitude towards learning foreign languages, a panel of experts has warned, with Britons becoming increasingly “linguaphobic” in the wake of the EU referendum.

Speaking at the Hay literary festival on Friday, a panel including Cardiff University professor Claire Gorrara and linguist Teresa Tinsley, said that Britons had too long relied on a false belief that English was the world’s lingua franca. Only 6% of the global population are native English speakers, with 75% of the world unable to speak English at all. But three-quarters of UK residents can only speak English.

“That English is somehow the norm is a complete misapprehension of the facts, but this notion that everyone is speaking English is persistent and believed by many in the UK,” said Gorrara, warning that economic opportunities and bridge-building with the rest of the world was at risk after Brexit if Britons did not become less “linguaphobic” and learn more languages. 

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Why teachers shouldn’t be afraid of other languages being spoken in the classroom

21 May 2018 (The Conversation)

More than 20% of all primary school and 16% of secondary school children in the UK speak languages other than English. And there are now more than 360 languages spoken in British classrooms.

But more often than not, in mainstream schools in the UK, the “home languages” of children can be sidelined at best, and prohibited at worst. English is the language of the classroom – this is despite the fact that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear that children from linguistic minorities should not be “denied the right” to use their own languages.

In my recent research, I found there was often a lot of fear associated with the use of “home” languages among the typically white, monolingual demographic of the teaching profession.

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The English language is the world’s Achilles heel

3 April 2018 (The Conversation)

English has achieved prime status by becoming the most widely spoken language in the world – if one disregards proficiency – ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is spoken in 101 countries, while Arabic is spoken in 60, French in 51, Chinese in 33, and Spanish in 31. From one small island, English has gone on to acquire lingua franca status in international business, worldwide diplomacy, and science.

But the success of English – or indeed any language – as a “universal” language comes with a hefty price, in terms of vulnerability. Problems arise when English is a second language to either speakers, listeners, or both. No matter how proficient they are, their own understanding of English, and their first (or “native”) language can change what they believe is being said.

When someone uses their second language, they seem to operate slightly differently than when they function in their native language. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “foreign language effect”. Research from our group has shown that native speakers of Chinese, for example, tended to take more risks in a gambling game when they received positive feedback in their native language (wins), when compared to negative feedback (losses). But this trend disappeared – that is, they became less impulsive – when the same positive feedback was given to them in English. It was as if they are more rational in their second language.

While reduced impulsiveness when dealing in a second language can be seen as a positive thing, the picture is potentially much darker when it comes to human interactions. In a second language, research has found that speakers are also likely to be less emotional and show less empathy and consideration for the emotional state of others.

For instance, we showed that Chinese-English bilinguals exposed to negative words in English unconsciously filtered out the mental impact of these words. And Polish-English bilinguals who are normally affected by sad statements in their native Polish appeared to be much less disturbed by the same statements in English.

In another recent study by our group, we found that second language use can even affect one’s inclination to believe the truth. Especially when conversations touch on culture and intimate beliefs.
Since second language speakers of English are a huge majority in the world today, native English speakers will frequently interact with non-native speakers in English, more so than any other language. And in an exchange between a native and a foreign speaker, the research suggests that the foreign speaker is more likely to be emotionally detached and can even show different moral judgements.

And there is more. While English provides a phenomenal opportunity for global communication, its prominence means that native speakers of English have low awareness of language diversity. This is a problem because there is good evidence that differences between languages go hand-in-hand with differences in conceptualisation of the world and even perception of it.

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Bilingual toddlers have incredible advantage over other children, finds study

2 November 2017 (The Independent)

Bilingual children have an advantage over others who speak only one language, a study has shown. 

Children aged four and younger who speak two languages or are learning a second have more rapid improvements in inhibitory control, a study by the University of Oregon has said. 

Inhibitory control is the ability to stop a hasty reflexive response in behaviour or decision-making and use higher control to react in a more adaptive way. 

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Hundreds of languages are spoken in the UK, but this isn’t always reflected in the classroom

21 August 2017 (The Conversation)

More than 300 different languages are now spoken in British schools. And in England, over 20% of primary school children use English as an additional language.

This equates to over 900,000 children for whom English is not their first language. These children might have been born in another country, their parents might speak another language to them at home, or they might just know a few words of another language because their grandparents immigrated to England a long time ago. But just like any other pupil, they attend schools across the country, speak (or learn to speak) in English and participate in the national curriculum. Yet the fact these children also bring with them a rich understanding of another language and culture can often go unnoticed.

Bilingualism is something we usually celebrate in adults yet not always in the classroom, where English is usually prioritised. This is despite the fact that many communities in Britain, speak more than one language.

In the 2011 British Census, for example, 4.2m people reported having a main language other than English. And just over half of all Europeans claim to speak at least one other language in addition to their mother tongue.

Research shows that some children never have the opportunity to use their home language at school. And in some cases, their teachers might not even know they speak another language.

In the absence of school or community support, these children can sometimes end up losing their home languages. This is something that may be particularly true in highly monolingual areas which experience less immigration.

The problem then is that these areas – where English is the only language spoken – become even more monolingual. All while other areas of the country grow and celebrate their linguistic diversity.

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Shy holiday Britons 'point at menus' to avoid foreign words

4 August 2017 (BBC)

Over half of Britons who holiday abroad say they have pointed at a restaurant menu to avoid having to pronounce non-English words, a survey suggests.

And almost half said they were embarrassed at not being able to speak the local language while away.

But 80% of more than 1,700 people questioned for the British Council felt it was important to learn some phrases.

"Trying out a few words is the perfect way to get started," said Vicky Gough, British Council schools advisor.

The Populus survey found 37% of British holidaymakers always tried to speak a few words in the local language but 29% said they were too scared to try.

It also found that 36% felt guilty at asking locals to speak English, while:
  • 56% resorted to pointing at menus
  • 45% relied on the assumption that all locals would speak English
  • 42% spoke English more slowly and loudly
  • 15% even tried speaking English in a foreign accent
A minority (15%) admitted to being so unwilling to try pronouncing words from other languages that they would only eat in British or fast food restaurants while overseas, rather than sampling local cuisine.

A similar number said they preferred staying in self-contained resorts to avoid local culture.

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Learning a second language still matters

10 December 2016 (Times Higher Education)

The Brexit vote sent shock waves through the UK’s modern languages community.

Already shaken by the closure of modern languages departments at the universities of Ulster and Northumbria, a continuing downward trend in undergraduate enrolments, and the loss of Higher Education Funding Council for England funding for the Routes Into Languages programme, the vote seemed to many to be symptomatic of a lack of understanding of the value of languages both nationally and internationally.

Part of the problem derives from the widespread misconception that speaking English is enough and that monolingualism is the norm.

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UK voted worst country in Europe at learning other languages as world video dictionary launched

26 September 2016 (The Independent)

The UK is the worst country in Europe at learning other languages new data suggests.

As part of a vote organised for European Day of Languages, Britain was revealed to be the most monolingual country in the continent.

More than one in three (35%) chose Britain as the worst in Europe for communicating in any other language apart from their mother tongue. French citizens came second in the vote with 22 per cent, followed by Italy with eight per cent.

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Speaking just one language may improve insight and judgement

29 February 2016 (The Telegraph)

The benefits of bilingualism are well known, but a new study suggests people who speak just one language may have better judgement and insight.

Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin found that monolinguists were far better at assessing their own performance than those who spoke two languages.

The researchers said they were surprised by their findings as bilingual people often outperform monolinguists in mental tests.

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The long adieu: how Britain gave up learning French

22 January 2016 (The Guardian)

Is it important that more people speak English? Only this week, David Cameron launched a new scheme encouraging more Muslim women to learn the language, one argument being that the inability of many to do so weakens their voice , and in doing so strengthens radicalisation.

[...] I'm much more worried about the number of people learning the other historic language of England; the language used at the first parliament, spoken at Runnymede in 1215, a language that still features in much of our legal system and which, until 1858, was the only one on British passports: French.

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People who speak two languages ‘have better brains’

16 July 2015 (The Scotsman)

People who speak two or more languages have better functioning brains, a study found.

Being bilingual increased the size of the part of the brain responsible for processing thoughts than those that speak their mother tongue, researchers found.

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A few myths about speakers of multiple languages

5 February 2015 (British Council Voices)

Is monolingualism the norm? Do bilinguals have two separate language systems? The British Council's Nayr Ibrahim separates the myths from the realities.

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How will we speak in 100 years?

20 January 2015 (Mail Online)

Sci-fi visions of the future may focus on soaring skylines and flying cars, but the world in 100 years may not only look different, but sound different too.

While there are more than 6,000 languages spoken globally at present, less than 600 are likely to endure in 2115, and they could be simplified versions of what we recognise today, one linguist has claimed.

He told MailOnline that the advent of technologically-advanced translating tools will not be enough to save the diversity of Earth’s languages either.

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Related Links

What the World Will Speak in 2115 (The Wall Street Journal, 2 January 2015)

Less people in NZ studying languages

16 February 2014 (3 News)

New Zealand students are dropping foreign languages at university level at a rate so high some languages are disappearing completely from the education system. Experts are warning that a country that only learns its own language could face big problems down the track.

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Why the drop in university applications for languages is worrying

31 January 2014 (Guardian)

Ucas figures showing falling applications for modern language degrees pose a real problem for Britain.

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Related Links

  • University applications hit record high (Guardian, 31 January 2014)
    [...] The number of applicants for European language courses fell by 5%, from 20,350 last year to 19,300. Applications for engineering are up from 127,000 to 141,000, and for computer science from 86,300 to 97,000. Wendy Piatt, director of the Russell Group of research universities, said: "We are worried by the continuing drop in applicants for both European and non-European languages. We need language graduates to meet the needs of our economy and society."

Transforming a culture of monoglots

11 December 2013 (The Guardian)

How do we change a determinedly monolingual culture, in which people remain disinterested in other languages, as well as convinced that they're punishingly hard to learn?

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Speaking a second language may delay dementia

7 November 2013 (BBC)

People who speak more than one language and who develop dementia tend to do so up to five years later than those who are monolingual, according to a study.

Scientists examined almost 650 dementia patients and assessed when each one had been diagnosed with the condition.

They found people who spoke two or more languages experienced a later onset of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

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Related Links

Bilingual skills can stall dementia onset (The Herald, 7 November 2013)

Question to the House of Lords on ‘Languages: The State of the Nation’ report

12 March 2013 (Hansard)

Baroness Coussins put the following question to the House of Lords: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the conclusion of the British Academy's report Languages: The State of the Nation, published in February, that the United Kingdom will be unable to meet its aspirations for growth and global influence unless action is taken by them, businesses and in education to remedy the deficit in foreign language skills.  See the full debate transcript on the website.

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Related Links

Languages: The State of the Nation (British Academy, February 2013)

British teens are the worst at learning languages? Once you’ve cracked Spanish, French is a doddle

17 February 2013 (The Independent)

Immerse yourself in the language as it is used: real films, real books, real songs.

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Scots fare worst in bilingualism study

14 November 2012 (The Scotsman)

Scots have fared worst in a Europe-wide initiative designed to foster bilingualism.
The study, which was led by the University of Edinburgh and backed by the European Commission’s Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), recruited 25 monolingual families from five European countries.

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