I have recently noticed that the UK Newspapers Independent and Guardian have started running more stories about language learning in schools and universities than I have seen before. Both of them are reacting in really great ways to language promotion "activism" from associations like the British Academy (whose report about the State of Languages in the UK I wrote about earlier this year) and Speak to the Future.
The British Academy and the Guardian have in fact teamed up to hold a UK-wide Language Festival, getting people talking about languages and intrested in them. It seems as though finally they are beginning to recognise that learning a language in school is not where this beautiful world of multilingualism starts and ends. There are articles about careers for languages graduates and packs for businesses and schools to download for promoting the language learning debate online.
While I think that some parts of these packs are clutching at straws a bit (international recipes? really?), the overall intention is great. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll have an idea of how long I've been waiting for this kind of stuff!
My favourite part is the Guardian call for a Public Language Champion (http://www.theguardian.com/language-festival/guardian-public-language-champion-award-2013-shortlist). They have created a new award for this and after a first round of voting we're now looking at an impressive shortlist (it's missing Danaerys Targaryen I'd say featuring a football manager, a comedian, a yachtswoman, a BBC correspondent and an actor. To me, the shortlist represents what's great about language learning: Diversity, ambition and a special gift that anyone can discover within them.
For a little browse through the Guardian articles in detail, start with their Modern Languages section.
The 1000 Words Challenge comes from my favourite pro-languages association, Speak to the Future.
The idea is simple and beautiful: Teach everyone just 1000 words in a new language and see what happens, how it influences their lives, how they improve their confidence and their attitudes.
In other words, Speak to the Future says this:
We are not expecting instant fluency. Yet if everyone were capable of at least 1000 words in a new language, social attitudes and economic prospects would be significantly enhanced: young people would be better prepared for the challenges of globalisation and our cultural and intellectual levels would be raised.
I am 100% behind this. In fact, I think the 1000 words campaign is actually a better call to action than the Language Festival, because it is so clear in who it's addressing. That's YOU - they say everyone can do it, they don't call for more teaching at school level or anything else, instead the message is aimed at individuals. As someone who teaches adults and enjoys nothing more than the great feeling of reviving something they thought was long lost, I think this is where the real value is.
Language learning is open to everyone and should be beneficial to all. It's not just for school kids, not just for university students and in fact it can be an excellent hobby or passion for people who never even took a higher level schoool exam. Status, money, age and brain capacity matter so much less than you think.
That's where real value in languages comes from.
So how would you start?
If you want to support the campaigns for language learning, then I urge you to get involved and learn a few words. It does not cost any money if you have internet access or a nearby library.
Personally, I wouldn't even worry too much about language choice. Just pick whichever appeals to you right now and go for it, because you must enjoy learning it in order to make progress. Think about your learning style, and what you do in your daily life.
Have you ever joined a group class before? Did you start a language by buying a Teach Yourself or Rosetta Stone set? What other ways of starting have you tried....and are you still going?