The British are rubbish at languages

Article from the Guardian stating the (if you live in Britain) obvious about British language teaching:

well if you already know english there is little pressure to learn. it’s not the mental capacity, rather the attitude I think

Unfortunately I couldn’t open the file of ‘The gardian’ that you had recommended. Although the topic can be interesting. I have been meeting for last 10 years a lot of students from the UK with a high level of language knowledge from the Foreign Office to rather mediocre language knowledge from the students of the Edinburg University. That’s why I think that the British language teaching is different in different places like in all other countries.

I think it’s the gap between 0 and 7 that makes skyblueteapot’s link not work. Let’s see if my version does…
It’s a cool article.

D’oh, it’s done it again!

Copy and paste the link and then delete the gap between the 0 and the 7. Sorted.

BTW, some of the comments at the bottom make for interesting reading…

Most people I’ve met from Great Britain are about as good at languages as Americans are (pause for laughter here). To be fair, even though our “cousins” may not have great access to language resources, some of the best language texts I’ve seen have come from GB. In fact, I have wondered if background knowledge of the foreign language teaching environment in GB spurred the authors to write the texts in a way most people can understand.

Nicholas J. Brown’s The New Penguin Russian Course is a classic and a total gift to learners of this language. Some people who have written for the Colloquial series are also serious scholars and fantastic “splainers” of the languages they know. Dennis Deletant has authored multiple texts on Romanian and Celia Hawkesworth (I “think” she’s British) on the language group that includes Serbian and Croatian.

It will always be and almost always has been that in general the people who speak whatever the lingua franca is of the day, don’t learn (don’t really need to learn) other foreign languages. The first thing someone needs to learn a language is motivation and when an educated scientist from Germany and an educated scientist from Japan realize for them to be relevant they need to speak English (or Latin or French in the past) then that’s motivation enough to learn English.

In fact if you took English out of the equation, most countries could be considered terrible at learning other languages. How well do the Dutch speak Japanese? Do Koreans speak good Russian? No. They all try to learn English (for now)…

Do you think that everyone is on an equal playing field when it comes to learning another language?

Poor people are definitely not playing on the same playing field as rich people.

It is called japanitis when English-speakin person wants to speak Japanese. And his chances for success are very low.

“The name for someone who speaks two languages is bilingual and the name for someone who speaks one is British.”

I think that English teachers should learn some other languages to understand both the difficulty of doing so and the similarities and differences among various languages. If they do, they will make not only good teachers but also popular teachers, although every Briton does not have to become an English teacher.

I’m planning on doing a teaching certificate in the UK, called the Cert TEFL. I chose it a) because it was cheap and b) because as part of the course you have to have a stab at a new language so you can reflect on the learning process. I’m hoping to learn Mandarin to qualify to teach English :wink:

As an 18 year old British student who is about to embark on a degree of Modern Languages at a British University I think I am well placed to answer this question. As a whole, Britain is very poor at producing polyglots, but this is true of the Anglosphere as a whole. The teaching here is particularly uninspiring, and far too regimented, and based on passing exams, yet this is also true of many countries in the world. I think the main problem is the fallacy that most Britons believe - that all foreigners speak perfect English, or anybody worth talking to does. Many of my friends do not understand why I want to take a degree in languages because they truly believe that everyone else in the world speaks English.

Fortunately there are a minority of Britons who do NOT believe that. There is certainly no inherent disadvantage to being British when learning foreign languages, other than the fact that one has to shake off the ridiculous aforementioned mindset. In fact, as a hypbrid language of Germanic origin and with a copious amount of loan words from the Romance family (particularly French), the British should have a slight headstart over many peoples when learning languages from these two language groups.

"In fact, as a hypbrid language of Germanic origin and with a copious amount of loan words from the Romance family (particularly French), the British should have a slight headstart over many peoples when learning languages from these two language groups. "

Yes, I agree with that. Good point.

“that most Britons believe - that all foreigners speak perfect English, or anybody worth talking to does”.

There’s no good reason for us to learn foreign languages, because most Britons believe:

Foreign TV is just badly-dubbed American TV
Foreign films are all either arty porn or arty art
Foreigners understand English if you shout at them or you are drunk
Foreign men think about nothing but sex and are always drunk
Foreign women think about nothing but fur coats and always wear make-up and high-heeled shoes
All Russians, Chinese, South Americans and Italians are mafiosi or gang members
Speaking in Russian summons the Devil.

Actually maybe it’s just my kids who believe that last one :wink:

“Speaking in Russian summons the Devil”

That’s what they think when we speak Russian and you’d say, Hey Robin, say hello to Ilya.

Great list Helen, apparently the Brits and the Yanks aren’t as different as we though… :wink:

Quote: It will always be and almost always has been that in general the people who speak whatever the lingua franca is of the day, don’t learn (don’t really need to learn) other foreign languages.

Agreed. Unless there is a very specialized application for the language (going into foreign service, international business, etc) the motivation just isn’t there.

I don’t think Americans, for the most part, assume that everyone they meet in their travels will speak English. But if their travels are on a superficial level, and just confined to designated tourist areas, they may do just fine. Many British and American citizens that live abroad, live in enclaves of English speaking people, so it is still not very difficult to get by without ever learning the native language.

Regarding Helen’s list…I have come across quite a few travelers that are very “ethnocentric” and nationalistic in their behaviors. I have found this to be the case, regardless of the travelers origins. Chinese exchange students have stayed in my home, and stuck very closely to their culture and habits, very reluctant to try something outside of cultural norms. I’ve seen Americans get off cruise ships in Hong Kong, and head straight into the McDonald’s at the pier. It is pretty uncomfortable getting out of that cultural bubble some times.