Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Monolingual Britain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th December, 2019

58DC58EB-7D28-4043-8AE7-028ED9620E22It has often been said — not always in jest — that Brits are bad at learning foreign languages. But for many Brits the truth may be that they don’t see the point in making the effort, “as everyone else speaks English, don’t they?” That latter assumption is of course incorrect and to be honest it is a feeble excuse. And with Brexit looming, when the UK government wants to promote the idea of a Global Britain the population will be largely unprepared to engage with foreigners in other languages. According to, using figures from the EU statistics agency, Eurostat, the UK has the highest number of monolingual inhabitants of any of the 28 EU member states: 65.4%. Yes, almost two thirds. This is despite the fact that so many Brits travel abroad for their holidays. Moreover, by not speaking other languages monolingual Brits miss out on so much of Europe’s cultural richness. Compare our poor national linguistic performance with that of the most multilingual, the Swedes, of whom only 3.4% say they speak no other language. Part of the problem is that language teaching in British schools has dropped off in recent years. However, not all is lost. According to google searches hundreds of thousands of Brits have been searching online about learning another language, Spanish being the most popular: 112,000 in the past month alone. This individual initiative is to be applauded. But if the government wants to prevent the country becoming more isolationist after Brexit it needs to be encouraging more citizens to learn other languages as well.


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