Monolingualism in 21st Century Britain


When ordering food in Spain, I speak first in broken spanish before the waitress tells me it’s okay, “I speak a little english” and we continue the conversation. This time I hold all the answers. I have the power of being fluent. Upon arriving home, I overhear a woman trying to order in english, as her native tongue refuses to coil around the words, the man beside me laughs. In his eyes, she is defined by her second language and therefore deemed ‘unintelligent’. This happens to so many foreign people in the UK – I watch as they apologise profusely for mixing up words while we never even gave a second thought to learning their language in the first place. She could be a prized author. A philosopher. Her words could reduce people to tears. She could be a genius when using her native tongue. And yet we live in a society, where people are so wrapped up in their own superiority that they have the audacity to critique someone who is trying to adhere to our laziness . 

In truth, I am ashamed. In Spain, the waitress gives me the power of being fluent. She gives me the upper hand willingly. We need to break out of this stubbornness. As other countries are taught how to make us comfortable by losing their own identity, it stems into a much bigger problem. The number of students taking language degrees is at a record low, with 44 universities scrapping courses since 2000. While I do accept that languages may not be for everyone (I have had my moments of frustration while trying to wrap my head around French verbs) I think there needs to be a shift in order to make learning a language more important in the UK. Britain is more multi-cultural than ever with people from all over the world calling it home. They deserve better. I know it is not practical to ask people to learn every language but in industry, we should know how to cater to the needs of our neighbours. So that when I watch the woman in the cafe stumble over her words, I can reply, “yo hablo un poco de español”.


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