Online retailer Amazon is to move its European customer service centre from the UK to the Irish Republic, to take advantage of better language skills.
This can hardly be a surprise to anyone who knows the dire state of language teaching in British schools. I think I am right in saying that language teaching is not compulsory after the age of fourteen. Of course there are independent schools that teach languages, but what does that mean? It means that in twenty years time, the Brits will be busily moaning about how the middle class are occupying all the important positions that require dealings with foreigners.
The reason for this state of affairs is pure laziness, combined with a nationalist feeling of superiority. Languages are harder than other subjects so fewer people are willing to take them up; and as long as people insist on believing (incorrectly) that ‘all foreigners speak English anyway’, they will still fail to understand what is going on when their European business partners start plotting among themselves in Foreign.
The BBC report says that 30% of UK citizens claim that they can hold a conversation in a European language. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by a conversation; shouting ‘Due bottlos de vino reddo, por favore señor, chop chop,’ at a bemused waiter is not a conversation. I find that figure of 30% rather difficult to swallow, even if it excludes children (it doesn’t say that it does).
Another BBC report tells us that the Goethe Institute in London (the German equivalent of the British Council) is offering free English language lessons to football fans heading for the World Cup in Berlin this summer. No-one is going to learn a language to conversational level in six months, and it seems that this is not even an option:
… there isn’t a past participle in sight during the two-hour, fortnightly class …
In fact, at a rate of two hours a fortnight, they won’t learn much at all. Beginners really need at least two separate lessons a week at least or they simply forget what they have learnt before the next class comes round.