Yesterday I spoke to a lovely new group of people about what I do. I talk to people about how I am a language tutor because I believe in languages as a fab thing to learn. I want them to shake off the myths, and any mediocre experiences they may remember from school.
And after being confronted with the common "we Brits are just so rubbish at language learning" and "well, it's really quite hard and we're lazy", I encountered a new and really interesting perspective on why so few people in this country get involved in languages.
English is too popular
"Don't take this the wrong way", my conversation partner started, "but you see...in Germany, everyone's first foreign language is English. It's the same in France, in Greece, in Brazil, no matter where you go. But here in the UK, what would we learn that's as widely spoken?"
I had never heard this particular perspecitve before - the global dominance of English is obviously old news, but the lack of a second world-dominating language as a discouraging factor? "We're too popular, we don't know which one of the second bests to pick!" That's something really interesting.
Which language is as big as English?
Newspapers often love looking for the next big thing, and in language learning this is often considered to be Mandarin Chinese. Employers love it because China is such a big market, and it has the fresh untainted factor that German and French often lack. But is it the obvious choice? No. I agree that I couldn't see a real obvious choice for English learners. Statistics tell us that the most commonly studied foreign languages in the USA today are modern European ones, and it is no different in the UK.
Choice as a motivator
My response to the comment, after thinking about this particular predicament, was that the particular dominance of English can serve the English native speaker extremely well. You get to pick your second language, free from the pressure of what's popular around the globe. You can make it your own choice and use that as a motivator! So you might not be learning a language learnt by as many speakers, but if you want a world dominating one, I'm pretty sure we can find an alternative.
What's your advice?
I would love to hear your perspectives. Did you ever have the agony of choice, and did it ever put you off learning a language? Or is this kind of problem just a bit of a #firstworldproblem?
Which language would you recommend to a native English speaker?