Olympics perfect platform to boost language learning
by Humair Naqvi
The London Olympics have been a celebration of international sporting talent and achievement – but also the perfect opportunity to improve the state of the UK's language abilities, writes Humair Naqvi
London 2012 brought together more than 10,000 athletes from 205 countries to compete in the world's greatest sporting event. These sportsmen and women and the nations that they represented were united by their Olympic dream, but perhaps somewhat divided by linguistic barriers. Although this was such a pivotal moment in London's history, it would appear that British citizens were ill-prepared to fully take advantage of the opportunity to meet and make friends with the vast array of visitors from abroad.
The British may learn a language at school or take evening classes but, while their European counterparts are successfully multilingual, the British tend to fall by the way-side when it comes to mastering another language. Indeed, over 50 per cent of individuals view their language skills as inadequate to engage in conversation with a visitor from abroad. That is not to say that the British are apathetic to other cultures: people in the United Kingdom are motivated to learn a new language by the desire to connect and interact with other nations.
The Olympics and Paralympics are therefore the perfect setting in which to capitalise upon these aims, by either embarking on learning a new language, or improving current skills. The Olympic stadium is a melting pot of different languages, overarched by the universal language that is sport, making London 2012 the perfect springboard for international confluence. The games demonstrate that people from all over the world share common interests and dreams, rendering language disparities an artificial obstacle to meeting new people and engaging with visitors.
However, the benefits of acquiring a new language extend far beyond the Olympics; in a global working world, it is increasingly important to be fluent in a foreign language. Organisations including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Metropolitan Police and the General Federation of Trade Unions have been working closely together, combining their knowledge and experience to address the current issues that organisations are facing. This also involves tackling the needs of an increasingly multicultural society, supporting numerous challenges such as ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages – for migrant workers and allowing for community engagement dealing with critical issues in health and safety.
The process begins with education. Baroness Coussins, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on modern languages, has said that a national languages recovery programme is required in the UK. In 2010 she pointed out that French has disappeared from the top 10 General Certificate of Secondary Education subjects and added that, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Key Stage 3 pupils in the UK spend only 7 per cent of their time learning a new language.
Having found that the future of the UK's world class research base might be threatened by the decline in modern language learning, the British Academy has called for a series of measures by universities and government bodies to address this issue. In 2011, they launched the languages and quantitative skills programme to support languages and the use of quantitive methods in the humanities and social sciences over the next four years. All this works to create young professionals with the skills to be successful in the global economy.
The Olympics is a celebration of international sporting talent and achievement, but it can also be a platform for international linguistic prowess. People are interested in other cultures, they want to learn a new language and they are dissatisfied with their current abilities. London 2012 is the perfect opportunity to improve the state of the UK's language abilities, so that we can become first-class players on the world stage.
Humair Naqvi is head of government and education UK/EMEA at Rosetta Stone, a provider of technology-based language-learning solutions
The reason why countries which are more isolated from other languages, like Australia - but the UK has that factor as well, albeit to a lesser degree - do more poorly in learning foreign languages is that the people there rely far more on language classes/tuition in the virtual or the real world scenarios. And the reality is that these mediums have for the most part VERY poor success rates.
One reason for that is the methodologies used do not engage the learners at the level they have to engage in when they are compelled to talk another language in a foreign country. Engagement is the name of the game, however most language courses only pay lip service to it.
There are of course other reasons, but once educators and learners understood the importance of engagement as a learning strategy, we would see wholesale changes in how people teach and learn, and then people would want to go and learn languages in classes and the results would be what we all yearn for.
Andrew Weiler - Melbourne, Australia - Strategies In Language Learning