Tuning Your Language Radio

December 20, 2011 by totalityservices

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Having been immersed in a different language from a young age and subsequently pursuing my passion of learning and speaking languages throughout my school life and into my adult career I find it very hard to understand the lack of interest in foreign languages at school. Nor do I understand the decline in uptake of modern foreign languages in schools up and down the country. To me it seems strange that fewer people are interested in learning languages when we have an increasingly multicultural society and travel abroad is becoming more and more popular.

Perhaps it’s due to the teaching methods and materials or perhaps it’s simply because many young people don’t see why it is relevant to them. Why should I learn a language? What relevance does it have in my life? I don’t need another language, everyone speaks English right?

Wrong! Yes there are billions of English speakers worldwide, but it falls short behind Mandarin Chinese and Castilian Spanish in the sheer numbers of speakers worldwide. Though learning a language at some point in your school career is compulsory the choices are often limited (at my school we had the choice of French or German, with a bit of Latin thrown in). And the same old text books are dragged out year after year- it’s true, what is the relevance? What’s more these languages are often taught by non-native speakers, far from ideal when trying to learn correct pronunciation and intonation.

At university my language classes were largely filled with girls, for every 10 girls there was only 1 boy.  Language learning really didn’t seem to be a male activity, yet since leaving university and entering the world of translation and interpreting- some of the better translators and interpreters we work with are actually men! Perhaps languages aren’t seen as a ‘macho’ occupation, and (I’m making a sweeping generalisation here) traditionally male subjects such as the sciences and mathematics are more appealing.

So what is the relevance of learning a foreign language? Well, in today’s world international ‘barriers’ are becoming less distinct, the internet connects us all in some way or another, and worldwide commerce means that we will all have contact with foreign languages at some point in our lives. Imagine having the key to be able to unlock a whole country of information; to be able to access and understand a culture different from our own.  Having a language under your belt can open many doors for you in terms of travel, career and personal achievements.

Language learning needs to become more interesting, (yes I admit) more relevant and more sexy to attract more members of both sexes. Personally I find it immensely satisfying being able to listen to someone speaking in a foreign tongue and being able to respond. I liken language learning to tuning in a transistor radio, the beginning stages aren’t easy- it’s like scanning through the frequencies and hearing a load of grey noise. But if you’re motivated to practice, to immerse yourself in a certain language it’s like twizzling the tuner just enough to reach that crystal clear frequency and staying tuned in for life.

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