Changes to the languages we are taught at school may be made in a bid to improve the UK’s economic standing and the social integration of immigrants
The UK government is being encouraged to provide Britons with opportunities to learn languages such as Punjabi, Polish, and Mandarin to improve social integration and economic factors.
Since Brexit, people in the UK have started to question the importance of learning French, German, and Spanish from a young age at school. Highlighted during the referendum was the lack of social integration by immigrants which lead to the British people wanting to “take back control.” Wendy Ayres-Bennett, professor of French Philology and Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, stated that “social integration should be a two-way street and should not be the duty and responsibility of solely immigrants.”
Professor Ayres-Bennett spoke out after Dame Louise Casey claimed that “some local communities were becoming increasingly divided because of government failure to ensure that social integration in the UK kept up with the ‘unprecedented pace and scale of immigration.'”
In response to this, Prof. Ayres-Bennett proposed that British people do not feel the need to learn any other languages because English is “difficult and only for the intellectual elites.” A new plan of action was put forward by Dame Louise Casey which involved obliging immigrants to pledge to learn British values and the English language by taking mandatory classes in their spare time, giving the whole immigration process an underlying militaristic tone.
With the sudden need for modern languages outside the classroom to help with economic growth in trading, foreign affairs, and science, it is questioned why British people do not make efforts towards developing multilingualism as a society. Prof. Ayres-Bennett proposed that the biggest problem that English people face is not enough exposure to the outside world, with European and Asian countries “having available sources of the English Language through TV, in pop songs and so on.”
The University of Manchester accommodates international students from 160 countries worldwide and each student must fit English language standards before they can apply. Obviously, international students must learn English to understand lectures, assigned pieces of work and exams, but with just under 100,000 students in the UK coming from China and over 10,000 of them studying at the University of Manchester, surely it would be beneficial for UK students to understand their language so that they can integrate and possibly network with them.
Whilst science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have excelled in the past few years, Prof. Ayres-Bennett has protested that languages have been completely “undervalued both in government and by the general public,” and the importance of learning community languages should be established from an early age or at university in order to develop social unification and to improve economic potential of workers.