The “Language Show Live”: Persuading The British To Learn Spanish, Chinese, Polish…..

What does “Bonjour” mean in English? According to a recent survey conducted in the UK by the travel website “”, 19% of those questioned had absolutely no idea. Furthermore (as reported in the “Daily Mail”), 64% admitted that they “ didn’t know a single word in any language other than English”, only 34% stated they were “willing to make an attempt at speaking a foreign language while on holiday abroad”, and 64% struggled to understand the Dutch phrase “goedemorgen”, despite its obvious similarity to our own “good morning”. However – presumably due to the popularity of the Costa Brava, Ibiza and other Iberian tourism destinations – almost 43% knew that “una cerveza por favor” is Spanish for “ A beer, please”.

 The “Sunday Times” columnist India Knight declared she was “appalled” by the statistics. In her opinion, speaking different languages is “good for the brain, makes appreciating other cultures easier, is ‘eternally fascinating’ and it’s nice to read books in the original”. She also considered it would be “slightly embarrassing” to be able to speak only one language.

She could also have added that, for UK graduates, this is likely to have a negative impact on their career prospects. Nicola Woolcock, “The Times” Education Correspondent, has pointed out that the personnel managers of leading companies such as Boots, Google, McDonalds, the law firm ‘Slaughter & May’ and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)“do not consider British applicants for jobs which need another language”. She quoted the assertion by Keith Herrmann (Deputy Chief Executive of the Council for Industry & Higher Education) that international candidates with intra-cultural sensitivities & language skills are “highly employable”. Young people (he emphasised) “need to understand they are competing in a global marketplace”

Despite this (as noted by Rebecca Ratcliffe in “The Guardian” on August 15th), UK students are “shunning” foreign languages in preference for sciences & economics: Examination entries for German this year were down 11.13% compared with 2012 and French fell by 9.9%, with only Spanish showing an increase of 4.08%. In the same newspaper on 7th October, Anna Bawden revealed that the number of UK universities offering French, German, Italian and Spanish degree courses “has plunged by 40% since 1998”.

The “Language Show Live” (now in its 25th Year) took place in Olympia, London, from 18th-20th October. The organisers estimate that total attendance was almost 9,000 – among them “teachers, linguists, interpreters, translators, language learners and enthusiasts”. Free trial classes “ranging from Arabic to Chinese, Portuguese, Turkish,  Korean and Russian, as well as British Sign Language” were available to visitors. Several UK educational institutions (such as London Metropolitan University, St Giles College, Oxford / Cambridge University Press) were represented, but they were far outnumbered by exhibitors publicising foreign language tuition – especially in Chinese, but also Polish & Hindi.

The Spanish contingent included: “EEA:Espanol in Andalucia” , “Spark English” (El Puerto de Santa Maria),“Learn Spanish in Valladolid”, “Salamanca, Ciudad de Espanol” and “Don Quijote” – which runs “35 Spanish Schools in 11 countries, 9 of them in Latin America” (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala & Peru). The strong Spanish presence at LSL reflected the contention that it has become the world’s second international language.

Filed under: Society | Posted on October 30th, 2013 by Colin D Gordon

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