I’ve never had a particular fondness for languages so the fact that I chose French as one of my GCSE options was quite the unwise decision really! At the school I went to, those in the high English sets had the chance to learn French, German and Italian; the idea being that there would be at least one language that we would be good enough at to take for GCSE. This was a good opportunity, though we weren’t forced to take any languages if we didn’t want to.
French wasn’t a subject that I enjoyed very much and though our teacher was lovely we didn’t actually learn how to speak French much at all and instead we just learned lists of random vocabulary – often relating to rooms in the house – off by heart. It wasn’t very helpful. Many people didn’t even know what their coursework meant! But somehow I managed to get the grade that I wanted and the fact that I wanted that grade was my main motivation. I think that if we had been taught better and if we had started learning the language seriously at a younger age then I would have enjoyed my high school language experience more. But for now I’ll leave languages alone.
With all that being said, I believe that when you go abroad it is vital that you learn simple phrases of the native language. Otherwise it appears rude and furthermore if you cannot communicate effectively with people then you could get yourself into rather difficult situations. For example if you are lactose intolerant and ask “could I have my tea without milk?” then you could find yourself being sick the following morning because your Spanish waiter thought you specifically asked for milk in your tea. You can’t expect the natives to understand everything that you are saying if you’re exclusively speaking English with a thick Birmingham accent!
If we began learning languages at a younger age I think that a lot of the obstacles we encounter when trying to learn a new language would be overcome. We’re very lucky in the sense that because children from other countries have to learn English out of necessity we don’t have to learn their languages. We’re quite lazy. In all honesty I don’t think that I will attempt to learn another language unless I want to move to a different country because I don’t need to. This is a negative attitude to have; but it’s the attitude for the majority of English people and it will continue to be the attitude unless the government intervenes and makes learning languages from a primary school age compulsory.