Britain’s World Language Crisis

An investigation carried out by U.K.-based The Guardian has revealed the dire state of foreign language education in the country. The report shows that the situation has become worse since a 2007 investigation on the decline of language education. About 40% of the active language departments at UK universities are predicted to close within the next 10 years if there is no intervention.

Since 1998, 40% of foreign language offerings at British universities have disappeared. Today only 56 universities offer specialist language degrees. Among language subjects, German has had to bear the hardest blow, with a decline in German degree programs by over half. Just in the past six years, 11 British universities have eradicated their foreign language departments entirely.

The Guardian attributes the decline in language programs to an initiative headed by the Labour Party to make languages optional. Paradoxically, the dearth of graduates with competency in world languages has been detrimental to British trade suggesting that although language training is in the best economic interest of the country, it is not valued by the government, thus perpetuating the decline both in language specialists and international trade.

However, language studies are not dying off in all facets of society; a widening language instruction gap is making language overwhelmingly “a pursuit of the elite,” with the prestigious Russell Group universities awarding roughly half of all British degrees in Spanish and French, three-fourths of Italian degrees, and two-thirds of German degrees.

Conversely, entire regions of the UK have lost all their degree-level language courses.

In response, Britain’s Foreign Office has voiced concern about the future of British diplomacy. The British Chamber of Commerce has called the language crisis’ impact on exports “potentially disastrous,” adding that many British graduates struggle to secure positions at key European institutions because of their lack of world language skills. The government has yet to take any action to support languages.

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