Why Don’t British Students Learn Abroad?


Recently, while in Kenya, I read this article. It’s main thesis is that British students are inherently xenophobic, therefore do not wish to study abroad with the unwashed masses. I feel this is untrue and gives those students, highlighting especially the ‘white working class’ students as being especially xenophobic.

I agree with the numbers that British students going abroad are bad in comparison to our European neighbours but numbers to the USA seem to be rising. This points to the real issue; Language. I think often of the maelstrom that was my Erasmus year. It was a hodgepodge of language, culture and learning where I made friends for life. I didn’t speak the language before I went out, however within ESIAL there was the expectation that I would be as fluent in French as their students were in English.

Currently learning a foreign language is no longer compulsory in British schools (excluding the private ones of course). When it was compulsory it wasn’t taught from primary school, it was tacked on in secondary school, six years after the rest of Western Europe, as such we struggle with swear words and pleasantries while they grasp the fundamentals of grammar and vocabulary. Within Britain, like the rest of the world our students have the capacity for learning, with global markets being opened, languages like Chinese and Swaihili are rapidly becoming more important, alongside traditional ones like French and Spanish.

At the end of the day, why learn a foreign language? The linga franca of the world is English, especially in business. As our younger students are going out into the world, making the deals that will shape the next 50 years the importance of having another language is useful to build bridges, at least common curiosity.

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Author: Mark Iliffe

Traveller, Programmer, Geospatialist and Motorcyclist

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