Most of my friends are moderate Remainers. There’s the odd fanatic, the sort who go on marches demanding a People’s Vote. What I can’t understand is why none of them can speak French, German, or indeed any European language.
They go on holiday to Europe, but only to those parts where they won’t have to speak the lingo because fortunately Johnny Foreigner has had the good sense to learn English.
Something else that confuses me is the belief, most pungently articulated by David Aaronovitch, that Brexit will be reversed in a few years because those stuck-in-the-past Gammons will shuffle off this mortal coil to be replaced in the electorate by a shiny new Briton: young, cosmopolitan and forward-looking, who believe the sun shines out of the Brussels’ class. In which case, why are fewer school children than ever bothering to learn a foreign language?
According to a report in the BBC this year, the learning of foreign languages is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium. Since 2013 there has been a decline of between 30 to 50 per cent in the numbers taking GCSE language courses with German and French suffering most. That’s in England; in Northern Ireland the drop in pupils learning modern languages at GSCE is 40% while in Scotland there has been a 19% decline since 2014. And there was me thinking those two countries couldn’t get enough of all things European.
Furthermore, in March this year the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Modern Languages released a report stating that since 2000 more than fifty UK universities have cut language courses, or done away with departments entirely.
I blame the parents. In 2013 a report revealed that only a quarter of British adults were capable of holding even a basic conversation in a language other than English; of those, French was the most common, followed by German.
Judging from an encounter I had in Orléans this month the 15 per cent of Brits who could speak a bit of French in 2013 has dwindled further. “Oh la la!’ exclaimed the woman in the ticket office when I enquired about the next train to Paris. ‘An Englishman who can actually speak French!’ She said it with humour, but that got us talking and she explained that in her experience the young French were getting better at learning English while the British were getting worse.
I had similar feedback in Biarritz in the summer from a hotel receptionist. By the way, I’m not a natural linguist but with hard work over the years I can now chat away in French, as I did to the receptionist. She was married to an American and she told me that in recent years British holidaymakers have become as bad as the Americans in not even attempting to speak French.
I witnessed this first hand in Paris last year while queuing for the Impressionists in London exhibition at the Petit Palais. Directly in front of me were a couple of young English hipsters, and I eavesdropped as they discussed the fallout from the Salzburg summit when EU leaders shot down Theresa May’s Brexit proposals. The pair were furious. Not with the E.U. but May, and in particular those Leave morons who’d got Britain into this mess. Then it was their turn at the ticket desk. ‘Bonjour’, one of them said diffidently, followed by ‘do you speak English?’ If you’re so desperate to stay in the E.U, why not learn at least a sentence or two? Out of respect more than anything.
I’d love to know how many of those people on the Remain protests brandishing banners declaring ‘We Love EU’ can speak French, German or Spanish? No, then what about a little Portuguese, or maybe some Italian? And, no, Prosciutto di Parma doesn’t count.
I suspect not that many. It’s far easier to wave a banner than learn a language.
A considerable number of British schoolchildren, probably egged on by their monolingual parents, have spoken of how Leavers have stolen their future. If their Europhilia is genuine, it might be an idea for them to stop talking nonsense and start speaking a European language. They’ll have a much brighter future that way.