A second language is a definite advantage

Despite the increasing use of English as a global lingua franca, the reasons for learning languages are more compelling than ever – especially for the kind of study that goes beyond ‘survival’ language skills and provides a deeper knowledge and appreciation of other cultures and societies. Language skills have become the mark of an educated, and employable, global citizen.1

English speakers have a significant advantage: English is the language of today’s sole super power. It is spoken widely throughout the world as a lingua franca as well as a native language. However this should not encourage complacency. As English is more widely spoken English native speakers will lose the competitive advantage that is conferred by fluency in their own language. Reliance on one language places English monolinguals at a significant disadvantage in a multilingual world in which

  • 90 % of the population live in countries where English is not the native language
  • 67 % of the world economy lies in non-English speaking countries
  • 65 % of the world’s on-line population is non-English speaking2


Why learn a foreign language?

 Functional values Symbolic values 
  • Allow pupils to explore life style and culture of another land through its language
  • Introduce learners to language awareness
  • Promote social interaction in and beyond the classroom
  • Listening, reading and memory skills improve, and speaking and writing become more accurate; therefore, students who are bilingual and students who keep studying a second language achieve better academic results
  • Provide skills for adult life eg for work or travel
  • Through the study of a foreign language, pupils understand and appreciate different countries, cultures people and communities
  • Pupils begin to think of themselves as citizens of the world as well as of Australia
  • Pupils learn about the basic structures of language
  • Lay the foundations for future study of other languages
  • Contribute effectively to society and achieve personal fulfillment
  • Increase knowledge and understanding for their own sake and to foster their application to the benefit of the economy and society
  • Serve the needs of an adaptable, sustainable, knowledge-based economy at local, regional and national levels
  • Play a major role in shaping a democratic, civilised, inclusive society
  •  The ability to speak the language of another community provides an instrument which allows access to their culture; conversely, if other communities can speak your language, they have a powerful tool for accessing your community. Language therefore has both an inward- and an outwardlooking functional value, and a symbolic value associated with identity
  • If the teaching of foreign languages is restricted, the minority possessed of second language skills acquires a potential advantage over the majority of his monolingual community. This is because the bilingual group has the power to communicate both internally and externally, and the monolingual majority can communicate only internally
  • Today, English has an international, practical, value for other nations. This has had both functional and ideological implications for Australia, affecting its citizens’ need and willingness to learn other languages. While non-English speaking nations have embraced a multilingual model, looking outward to functional need in order to communicate with other peoples, Anglo-Australia has remained essentially monolingual. At the functional level, there has been little apparent practical need to learn foreign languages so long as other nations have been willing to learn English. Symbolically, the country has been able to maintain one element of its identity, its language. But this is misguided in the present-day context of globalised English
  • Over recent decades, governments have become increasingly aware of the economic disadvantages of monolingualism3 This is not only a question of functional incompetence: symbolically, the ability and willingness to speak the language of others alters perceptions and relationships4

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1. “Why Learn Another Language?” on the The Plan9 Group website [Online] No longer available
2. Adapted from CILT, The National Centre for Languages website [Online] No longer available
3. Connell, T.J. (2002). Languages and Employability A Question of Careers. City University London.
Hagen, S. (1998). “What does global trade mean for UK languages?” in Moys, A. (ed) (1998). Where are we going with languages? Nuffield Foundation
4. Table contents adapted from Willis, Jenny (2002), “Evolution of a national strategy for foreign language learning” found on the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies website [Online] Cited 28/10/2014