Young people haven’t abandoned language learning. What about vice versa?


In a recent article in the Guardian by Holly Young, the myth that young people have abandoned language learning is debunked. Young convinces us that many university students are taking languages as additional subjects. More so than ever before, in spite of most students signing up for STEM subjects.
This leads me to wonder what attitudes towards languages in Higher Education really are. There are fewer dedicated Language and Linguistics courses than before and this is worrying. Instead, as Young says, ab initio courses have been increasingly popular. All well and good, but these courses do not raise students’ language skills to levels sufficiently high enough to work in, let’s say, the Ministry of Defence; a traditional route for people with high language skills.
While universities attempt to focus on internationalisation, the idea that languages can be taught to everyone to a lower level only does half the job. It would be beneficial to these agendas if we had greater linguistic understanding and deeper cultural exchanges, rather than more people mostly understanding and cultural confusion. The fact is, we need both: more interest in languages, as well as more support for the particularly talented.
On the subject, a person close to me just entered a Linguistics degree at a not to-be-named 14th highest ranking university in the world, only to be told that certain language related modules were already full. This was in spite of her arriving a week earlier than most of the home students. Instead, she was obliged to take a module in Photography. Ultimately, this led to her dropping out of HE for a year and looking for an alternative where options are options for the highly skilled, as well as for those who wish to dabble in languages in their spare time.