Natalie Haynes: If we want to get on, we might need more than just 'bonjour' and 'au revoir'

 

Share
Related Topics

When it comes to speaking another language, Britons are rarely the keenest students.

A survey released this week by a holiday website suggests that not only do two-thirds of us admit to knowing not one word of a foreign language, but one-fifth of us can't even understand the word "bonjour". Sacrebleu, as the French might say, if they wanted to be sure we hadn't a clue what they were talking about.

Apparently, the older we get, the gamer we become – almost half of the over-55s were happy to dust off their O-level French and give it a punt. Conversely, half of 16- to 24-year-olds admitted they had never tried to speak a word of the foreign language they'd learned at school.

With the Government willing to promote only science, maths and engineering as the cure for our recessional woes, it does seem as if they are missing a gargantuan trick. If 40 per cent of our exports go to Europe, wouldn't it be at least a slightly good idea if a few more of us didn't approach foreign language-speaking as being roughly on a par with syphilis for things you don't want to catch from the French?

Of those who did study languages at school, which are still compulsory to the age of 14, even if we have shamingly removed the need to at least try a GCSE in them, 21 per cent said they were limited to the words for hello and goodbye. Which rather suggests that they weren't paying attention to a single lesson in that language – and why would you bother if you were never going to have to sit an exam in it – as even a staggeringly stupid person could learn two words in five minutes, tops. Hell, you could perfect the accent in that time, too.

Some respondents admitted that they understood what was being said to them in another language, but were too nervous of making a mistake to try speaking it. This goes to prove what I have long believed – that we should teach Latin before any other language. First, you get to read Latin, and that is a lovely treat. Second, you will have at least a vague understanding of what's going on in all romance languages, which helps a lot with foreign newspapers and instructions. And third, the embarrassment factor is zero – Cicero will never leap out and mock your pronunciation.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'