Britain’s departure from the European Union could have had two opposing effects on language learning. Brexit could have been viewed as a rejection of globalisation and a move towards an isolationist ‘little England,’ a Britain which relies less on foreign markets, movement and investment. In this scenario, it would be expected that language take up would have fallen as Britain became increasingly inward-looking.
However, there seems to be an awareness that the sun does indeed set on the ‘British Empire,’ and Brexit has resulted in a greater appetite for language learning as the advantages of learning foreign languages have been realised, as Britain attempts to remain competitive and forge new relations. Junker’s statement that ‘the English language is losing importance in Europe’ has resonated with many who recognise that the City is likely to lose its financial passporting rights and consequently, English will no longer be the default financial language of Europe. Hence, earning and employment potential will be increasingly dependent on skills in European languages. This sentiment is echoed by The London Economic, a journal, which reported in July 2017 that business and financial institutions will be able to adapt to Brexit by ‘becoming increasing multilingual.’
These factors have caused ‘a surge in Brits wanting to learn a new language,’ according to the Independent newspaper. The app Lingvist has seen a 91% increase in UK users from the period August 2016 – April 2017, the popularity of Spanish courses has increased by 427%, and French by 324%. There has also been a record numbers of Brits applying for foreign passports. From June 2016-2017, applications for French citizenship has risen by 264%, Spanish by 431% and German by 361%. This growth in demand for foreign citizenship will positively impact the take-up of foreign languages.
Policy makers have identified the growing need and current shortfall of language skills. Even without accounting for Brexit, the deficit of language skills costs the economy £48bn per annum, 3.5% of GDP (The Guardian). The effect of this hidden tax will only be amplified once Britain leaves the EU as the over-reliance on English will prevent companies from fully exploiting new markets. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages has recommended that to minimise this, ‘Brexit must make language skills a top policy…The Government…must safeguard access to language skills and international experience, e.g. participation in the Erasmus+ programme, and also kick-start a national plan to ensure the UK produces the linguists necessary to become a world leader in free trade and on the international stage.’ For this to occur, foreign languages must be studied more intensively at school so that when students enter the workforce, they will be at a conversational level proficiency in a language. This position is held by quartz.com, which has advised that ‘the best way to prepare for life after Brexit is to teach kids a second language.’ The article continues to state that ‘limiting the access young people have to languages simply means not preparing them for a new post-Brexit world.’
MyDialog supports this notion. Whilst learning languages was always important, in the Brexit era, a higher proficiency in foreign languages will result in even greater economic benefits. Our emphasis on communication, through safe virtual exchanges, gives students the ability to gain necessary conversational skills, an opportunity not often individually available in the classroom. By conversing with their correspondents, a student will also gain insight into another culture, an increasingly valued asset, which is inherently linked to establishing international relations. MyDialog aims to equip students with this linguistic capital so that they will be able to thrive in a globally dependent economy and we look forward to starting the September trial with 1500 students in France and the UK.