The economic incentive of learning a language is no longer sufficient. The best way to express the importance of learning languages is by celebrating how it promotes diversity.Shamefully, on average, only 35% of the British population know another foreign language, in comparison to the EU average of 65%. When I asked my friends why they wouldn’t learn another language, they merely replied ‘why would we when everyone is learning English?’ It was only until after reading Xiaolu Guo’s vintage mini Language that I was able to conjure up a reply. Language is more than just an impressive skill on your CV after you graduate but can actually ease political tension. This is particularly relevant in Northern Ireland with the reformation of Stormont placing the support of an Irish Language Act at its fore. Despite its controversy, depoliticising the Irish language allows citizens to have the choice of adopting the language as part of their identity. Similarly, the preservation of Gaelic in Scotland lead Scottish Tories to express their discontent by stating it would harm ‘academic achievement’. This was quickly dismissed by evidence of bilingualism actually contributing to academic attainment. Casting the academic and job incentives aside, languages are imperative to the preservation of culture, history and national identity, aspects which cannot be re-created easily.
Identity and language are often intertwined. The main reason I wish to learn another language is to support refugees not only in a communicative sense, but to express support for individuals who have often been through hardship. Learning another language would be my way of preventing a hostile environment by showing compassion and allowing refugees to feel more comfortable to speak about their experiences. Language barriers can often be distressing, especially with a dismissive attitude to appreciating any other language, which is usually expressed in a xenophobic manner. As Xialou portrays in her book Language, moving countries is a terrifying experience, individuals have to assimilate into an entirely new culture, and language is significantly harder to become accustomed to. Ultimately, if the UK does in fact celebrate and promote diversity and tolerance, we should refute the parochial perspective of English as a language that every other individual should learn. Even attempting to speak a language can allow people to feel less terrified of moving away, by portraying a celebration in differences rather than the expectation of conforming.
In addition, there are too many words and phrases which -believe it or not- simply do not have an English meaning. We can enhance our knowledge just from learning more languages. In her article, Margaret Drabble reflects on learning the German language to be able to understand and, essentially, fall in love with German poetry. Can you imagine how many beautiful novels, all in different languages, the English-speaking mind could not grasp without the understanding of certain phrases and cultural meaning? It seems to me we are limiting ourselves greatly, despite the claim it affects our academic achievements. Hopefully, we can convince all universities to allow future politics students to celebrate languages by simply… learning them.