According to a recent article from Public Service Europe European Commission warns that Britain risks losing influence in the European Union if the nosedive in foreign language skills is not redressed. Over the past decade, enrollments in language courses in the UK have plummeted by a whopping 45%. So, when the rest of Europe is embracing and promoting multilingualism, Britain seems to be pushing the notion that English is the lingua franca of business.
While French used to be the language of diplomacy, certain French diplomats have horrified high-level politicians such as former French President, Jacques Chirac, with use of English in major EU gatherings.
The article goes on to talk about the growth of two seemingly opposing movements: one towards the accepting of English as a universal language of business and another movement that seeks to elevate the status of regional languages such as Catalan and Basque.
This strikes me as fascinating, given that in the U.S. there also seen to be two opposing movements: one towards accepting Spanish as an unofficial second language, an idea that is vehemently countered by the growing English-only movement.
While proponents of multilingualism can present study after study on the benefits of learning additional languages including cognitive benefits, increased problem solving skills and even a deeper sense of compassion towards others, those in favour of English as a lingua franca talk about reducing costs for translation, decreasing the risk of legal implications of bad translations and unifying global communications, but I wonder if there are any studies that scientifically prove the benefits to the individual learner of being monolingual? I’ve yet to find one myself…
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.