With the number of students taking languages at A-level shrinking and a corresponding decline in students enrolling in undergraduate language degrees at universities, Britain seems destined for a monolingual future. However, a number of initiatives have been launched to counteract this worrying loss of linguistic diversity in the national education system.
One of these current developments concerns higher education: This year, following the introduction of higher fees, the number of applications to language degrees has fallen by up to 21.5% (for non-European languages; a decline of 7.7% for languages overall). If the trend continues, more language degree programmes will have to be shut down due to lack of admissions, which will further increase the skills gap bemoaned by many.
One way universities have adopted to promote language learning is by offering free language classes to their undergraduates as a way to enhance their cultural awareness and their employability. Aston University, for example, has introduced its Languages for All programme where all new undergraduate students can study one of the five languages on offer (Arabic, French, German, Mandarin and Spanish) for free. In yesterday’s Guardian article ‘Free courses – now that’s a language students understand’, Carol Marley, Associate Dean of undergraduate programmes in Aston’s School of Languages and Social Sciences explains why so many students use this opportunity to study a new language: “Learning a language doesn’t just make you more employable, it allows you to explore a culture, and that can be a real eye-opener.”