Why are the English so lazy at learning languages?

Here at Take Note, we deal with English language audio files. We might encounter speakers with foreign accents in recordings, files that have been dictated by a translator, or interviews with foreign-language speakers where an interpreter mediates between interviewer and interviewee. Still, the transcripts we produce are in English.
This makes sense, of course. Take Note is a UK-based company and English is our language. But when it comes to talking about languages, most native English speakers become acutely aware of their linguistic shortcomings. Language learning in the classroom is on the decline and the English have become a monolingual nation. But why, and is this a bad thing?

5 Facts about the English language

 English is spoken in over 100 countries around the globe.
 There are around 400 million first-language English speakers in the world.
 Billions of people speak English in addition to their first language.
 After Chinese and Spanish, English is the third-largest language in the world by number of native speakers.
 English started to become an international language in the 20th century as a result of British colonisation.

What does this have to do with language learning rates?

The main reason why the English are lazy at language learning seems to be because learning other languages is no longer a necessity. English is the global business language, and it is so widely spoken that travellers can get by in most countries without speaking a word of the native tongue.
Add to this the rise of translation technology, the need for English speakers to learn another language is dramatically shrinking. You can put any phrase into Google Translate and find out what it means in seconds. Meanwhile, innovations like the upcoming Pilot Earpiece for live translation are moving us towards a world where language barriers are no longer a problem.
Furthermore, in schools and universities, the number of people studying languages is falling, and as a result, so too is the number of properly qualified teachers. Language in the classroom is based on memorising grammar rules and completing textbook exercises instead of preparing pupils for real-life use. In this current digital age, English speaking school kids are inevitably going to ask…

What is the point in learning languages?

A lack of need has led to a lack of language learning in the UK. But just because you don’t need a second language doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn one. The pros of bilingualism far outweigh the petty cons of putting time and effort into language learning. Warding off Alzheimer’s, improving your memory, and increasing your ability to multitask are just a few of the benefits you can expect.
People who speak multiple languages also have more means of expression at their disposal. There are, for example, some things that can be expressed in one language and not another. Nothing demonstrates this better than Ella Frances Sanders’s book of English words and images called Lost in Translation. (Different to the film!)
So, perhaps it’s time the English kicked those language learning muscles into gear – after all, it’s never too late to try something new.

Words by Transcriber Victoria W

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