When you think about languages and the UK, I’m sure you’ll immediately think of English, however, did you know that only 60% of people in Britain speak English as their first language?
It was revealed earlier this year that Polish has become England’s second language, with 546,000 speakers. In Wales, this number was only slightly overtaken by Welsh, of which there are 562,000 speakers. Other widely spoken languages in the UK include Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Arabic and Chinese.
The census, which was publicised in the Guardian newspaper, showed that of the UK population, which currently stands at approximately 62 million people, 13% were born abroad, less than 0.5% don’t speak a word of English and 1.6% don’t speak English very well.
Further statistics were released this week which show that one in thirteen people in the UK do not use English as their first language, however, the large majority of these have strong English language skills and use them in daily life.
* * *
We Brits are probably guiltier than anyone of making very little effort to learn the local language when travelling abroad, but when living in another country your experience can become much more fruitful if you can speak the local lingo!
Here are just a few reasons why learning the local language will benefit you:
• For socialising and making friends with locals
• To get a job or start your own business
• To find out about local events
• To learn more about the local culture
• To meet people from different walks of life
• To show respect for the locals
* * *
In Britain, small immigrant communities have been formed all over the country, meaning that there is little need for immigrants to learn English. Shops and restaurants are mainly owned by immigrants in these communities, so even day to day language needs, such as shopping and working, don’t pose a problem.
The same thing occurs when many Brit’s move abroad, take the Costa del Sol in Spain for example, where many expat groups have formed, leaving little need to learn Spanish.
* * *
Nowadays, for the travellers among us, one language just isn’t enough. If you’re planning on going abroad, take a phrase book with you and consider Nelson Mandela’s wise words:
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.