Just after the first global warfare, the United Kingdom produced its most comprehensive evaluate of languages provision, the Leathes document. In the Brexit generation, we’re now confronted all over again with special ideological, cultural and economic battles that have us examining the capacity of our language, and discovering it falls properly short of what is required.
After Brexit, we are able to need a sturdy language base for change, worldwide family members and soft power. Yet as opposed to an increase in languages, we’re experiencing steep decline: the quantity of modern languages undergraduates fell via fifty-four % among 2008–nine and 2017–18. With fewer students making use of, as a minimum of nine cutting-edge languages departments have closed within the final decade, and plenty of others have contracted in length or reduced their range of languages. By one estimate, the range of German gadgets has halved from more than 80 in 2002 to fewer than forty these days.

What can universities do to stem this decline? For starters, they need to build potential in 3 varieties of language graduates. First, we want all our graduates to have had their eyes opened to the arena, so widening get admission to optionally available language modules and brief-time period mobility alternatives is important.
Second, if Brexit and the debate over the Irish backstop have taught us something, it’s miles that we want situation specialists with language competencies – legal professionals, economists, geographers, engineers, and business graduates with the language competencies to understand, negotiate, and argue the information.
Third, we urgently need greater language graduates with at the least languages to diploma stage to train in colleges and rebuild and preserve number one and secondary languages. At present, we chance maximum nation schools presenting scholars handiest one language to GCSE and many providing none in any respect to A-degree, in a manner that could in no way be tolerated for the sciences.
To win lower back college students, a brand new technique is needed. For most of the 21st century, the case for the sensible software of languages has been robustly made. While this can seize policymakers’ attention, the problem is that people don’t make choices in an equal manner. Although the Leathes report made the case for increasing the number of Spanish speakers one hundred years in the past, it took until 2001 for candidate numbers for GCSE Spanish to match the ones for German.
We can’t wait eighty years for languages training to recover. Instead, we want inspiring syllabuses, first-hand revel in of the lifestyle, scholar ambassadors in faculties to change mindsets, accurate teaching, and honest evaluation.
But equally, we need a new narrative. The authorities need to trade its track to school leaders, careers advisors, mother and father, and beginners and explain that languages subjects at A-stage and past aren’t pretty much conversation talents. They are a part of the liberal arts menu of subjects that stimulate the deeper analytical, critical and innovative thinking that enriches people and enhances innovation and organization in any endeavor.

It’s no longer all bad information. When Leathes wrote his document in 1918, “current languages” at university supposed French (Britain’s first foreign language for about one thousand years) and German (Britain’s 2nd overseas language for the reason that 1700s). Today, regardless of closures and shrinkage, more universities provide levels in more languages, such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Chinese. Our levels are ways richer than in Leathes’ day, covering culture, records, society, and politics, at the same time as our teachers’ language talents and primary-hand knowledge of different cultures is incomparably better. Once we go away the EU, we have to make each attempt to hold that pupil mobility.
If simplest we will get students via the door, our publications will certainly shape the “citizens of the arena” that the government desires for Britain.
Nicola McLelland is a professor of German and History of Linguistics at the University of Nottingham
This article becomes amended on 1 August 2019 to eliminate the University of Hull as an example of a language branch closure. After ebook, a spokesperson for the university stated its branch turned into no longer closing however become decreasing recruitment.