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Brexit Britain cannot afford to be laissez-faire about its languages crisis (David Cannadine - The Guardian)

Mis à jour : 2 Mar 2019
The Guardian - Opinion languages
Fri 1 Mar 2019 10.30 GMT Last modified on Fri 1 Mar 2019 11.02 GMT
A-level entries are down by a third in 10 years and the number of students studying languages at university has fallen by over half.’ Photograph: Prasit photo/Getty Image
Brexit looming, we must wake up to the huge educational, cultural and psychological benefits of multilingualism.
National myths play a central role in the story of a country, and the UK is no exception. Over the centuries, we Britons have come to believe that we are naturally proficient – exceptional, even – in certain pursuits. These include engineering, literature, the classics, pop music, geography and football. As the country that gave the world Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Beatles, and the beautiful game, perhaps we have a point. To be British, we understand, is to excel in these areas, and this tacit understanding powers us on to ever greater achievements.

But it is instructive, when thinking about the UK and Britishness and what might lie in store for us in the future, to consider the pursuits about which we do not feel so confident. Of these, by far the most significant – and the most worrying – is other languages.

At some point in our history, we seem to have accepted the idea that we do not need to learn languages and that we are not very good at them anyway. This is curious, given that we are an island nation that needs to trade to survive.

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