Learning a language is a great way to cope with lockdown – and Brexit

The number of people signing up to language learning app Duolingo for the first time leapt 67 per cent last year, compared to 2019 (the BBC has reported). No surprise there given so many of us have had to shift to homeworking and for much of last year the doors to distractions like cafes, restaurants and cinemas have been firmly shut.

But in this surge it has been the UK that has led the way. New Duolingo users here are up 132 per cent – a jump almost twice as large as the wider, global trend. And that app wasn’t alone. Babbel, a competitor, witnessed an 80 per cent rise in the number of people from the UK registering, compared to a 50 per cent uptick globally.

The longer-term picture here is much less promising. Language learning, at least in our schools, has dropped drastically in recent years. When the BBC reported on this two years ago, they found that the number of modern languages GCSEs had almost halved between 2001 and 2018. The drop in the number of GCSEs taken in French or German had plummeted by around two-thirds.

Why is this? Why have so many people living here in the UK started to sign up to learn another language? Why at faster rates than in other countries? And why now in a country with a waning interest in learning other languages?

Could it be that for many of us now stuck here on Brexit Island the idea of learning another language is one way to assert our identity as Europeans? If you read the page of this blog in which the two of us who run it set out what it is all about we explain how we want to use to in part to assert our Europeanness and be a place for others to share in doing that. We wrote:

“We may now no longer be EU citizens, the words, ‘European Union,’ will be erased from our passports when we next send them for renewal, but we remain two Europeans – and we will live our lives consciously and positively as Europeans.

“We will treasure our friendships with people from all over this continent. We will travel together frequently to places elsewhere in Europe, use and continue to learn European languages, consume European films, visit exhibitions and follow European politics, both in Brussels and across the nation states. We will continue to do those things, and this blog will be where we write about them and share them with you.”

Learning a European language is a wonderful, positive way in which British Europeans can assert their European identity. The two of us running this blog are both learning a European language right now. Indeed, I even blog haphazardly in Swedish to help challenge myself and build my confidence.

It’s wonderful! I don’t do it because I have a Swedish partner or work for a Swedish company. I learn it for the joy of learning it – and using it, of course (with my tutor, but also in Sweden itself).

So, if you are not already learning another language, I’d encourage you to give it a go. The BBC has information but just do a little digging – plenty of language evening classes offered by London universities have moved online and offer the chance to learn with others.

Reading about new Swedish words and phrases created or popularised by the pandemic, for a blog post in Swedish: https://vagagorafel.blogg.se/2020/may/viruset-skapar-nya-ord-och-uttryck.html

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