Is it important to learn another language?

May 04, 2012, 9:29 AM GMT+0

Bonjour! ¡Hola! Ni Hao! Hallo!

Is it important to speak (or at least try to learn) another language?

In 2004, it became voluntary for schoolchildren in England and Wales to learn how to speak another language, and the number of language-learners has been in decline ever since.

But whether your memories of learning another language in school are fond or quite the opposite, among Labs participants taking part in this particular discussion, the general consensus was that it was important to get a second language under your belt -and they made their case for the languages they felt were most useful to learn.

How important, if at all, do you think it is to learn languages in school?

And if you could learn any language from scratch, which would it be, and why?

Share your thoughts in Disqus below

So, which languages did participants feel most important to pick up, and why?

While many of us can recall learning French or German in the classroom, according to education recruitment company Pearsons, the number of students opting to learn Mandarin (China’s most commonly-spoken language) in English schools is on the increase – GCSE entries have apparently risen by 40% since 2002.

Mandarin regularly featured in participants’ comments about the languages they feel are most worth learning, but a number of other languages also featured in their list.

Here’s what our pro-language-learning participants had to say about the merits of learning the following, and their range of reasons for doing so.

What language, and why?

1. Mandarin

Participants thought that learning Mandarin would be the most useful for getting a job in the future, pointing to China’s increasing economic power. It was also suggested as a great way to gain insight into a vastly different culture and to expand your horizons.

“It gives insight into a completely different culture, which is good to promote equality and understanding. The same can be said of Russian and Urdu, but a greater number of people speak Mandarin, so it has greater potential practical application” E Spoor, Gloucestershire

“[Learning Mandarin] would increase future chances of finding a good jobMagda K, London

“China will soon be the world's largest economy - speaking the language helps trade & fosters relationships” Anon

Mandarin is such a complex language, to learn it from scratch, would be an immensely rewarding thing to do. I wish British schools offered it from a young age” Marcus F, Aberystwyth

2. French

French was cited as a popular Western language, useful for working in Europe. Additionally it was seen as easier to pick up than some other languages, being closer to English. A few people also pointed out that France is a popular holiday destination, and therefore it would make sense to get practising French.

“It is still a business language spoken by many countries in addition to English” Anon

“It is the most common second language for people in the Western World and many countries in Europe, North and South America and Africa speak this or a variation of this language” Anon

It would probably be used more than other options. Schools tend to go on school trips to France. Plus it's probably easier to learn than some other languagesJordan W, Cleethorpes

“I want to learn French as I wish to live in France - I spend most of my holidays thereAnon

3. Spanish

As a language spoken the world over, participants felt that fluency in Spanish would be really useful when travelling, given the many diverse cultures that use Spanish as a major language.

“Spanish is one of the most common and practical languages in the world. Many British people visit and holiday in Spain, so it would come in handy for holidaysDaniel, Sunderland

“It is close to Latin and so provides a good foundation for grammar for all European languages” Anon

Large number of speakers, relatively easy to learn and with an interesting culture so it will encourage further learning” Anon

“I enjoy travelling and feel it would be the most usefulSally P, Kidderminster

4. Latin

Although probably not a language you would expect to receive so many nominations, some participants suggested that Latin would be integral to helping us understand English language and culture – and assist in the learning of others.

“It gives a basic grounding in English language and can assist in the learning of other languages including German, Spanish and Italian” Barrie M, London

“It gives essential sentence and grammar formation to children, which is missing far too often these days” Anon

“It is most relevant as a part of our own cultural heritageAlexander B, North Yorkshire

“I think it would be fascinating to see where most European languages came from and trace their roots. I would also look very clever when able to answer university challenge questions!” Ruth S, London

5. German

Some participants chose German for its similarities with the English language, making it easier to learn – and also for its use in business. Participants noted the economic strength of Germany and expressed a wish to learn a language which might increase their employment opportunities.

“Germany is the major industrial and economic power in Europe. We should do more to enable the UK to do business with Germany” Anon

“[Germany is the] most successful country in Europe, increasing employment opportunities. They also have a high standard of living” Anon

“It is very similar to English, and I could pick it up fairly quicklyAnon

“I enjoyed learning German at school, and I like the sound of German wordsAnon

Actually, languages aren't so important for schoolkids

While the majority of individuals participating in this poll were enthusiastic about the power of multilingualism, there were a handful who argued that languages should not be taught in schools at all, giving their reasons as follows:

  • “Second languages should be learned as an adult, which would mean that the person learning WANTS to learn and can choose which language to study. School time could be used more effectively
  • “We should wait until they are old enough to make a decision as to what they want to do when they leave or go to higher education”

How important, if at all, do you think it is to learn languages in school? Which other languages would you add to these nominations?

And if you could learn any language from scratch, which would it be, and why?

Share your thoughts in Disqus below.