Why we’re investing in Modern Foreign Languages

This week I was lucky enough to take part in the launch of the newly refurbished Modern Languages Resource Centre at King’s. I was invited to say a few words – and as a lover (and learner) of languages I couldn’t have been more delighted. 

Here’s what I said: 

It’s great to be here at the Modern Languages Centre today celebrating King’s contribution to making sure that languages – and the intercultural skills linked to learning a language – are right at the heart of what we do here at King’s. Before joining King’s I worked at the British Council where one of our big campaigns was to encourage our ‘tongue-tied nation’ to join the global conversation – in more than just English!

 A report I worked on back then, showed that the vast majority of British people feel unable hold a conversation in any of the languages the UK most needs for its future – especially Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Even the languages taught in UK schools are only confidently spoken by a fraction of the population.

This means, as we all know, that the UK is missing out on great opportunities for educational exchange, research ties, cultural relations, trade, development and advancing international understanding. All of these are getting lost in translation every single day.

As I always said at the British Council, if we could harness and grow the UK’s linguistic wealth, we would improve international prosperity and security, as well as social inclusion and intercultural understanding here at home.

Fingers crossed we’ll get there one day!

So back to King’s – well here at the MLC we’re certainly doing our bit! 

  • We have over 100 experienced language teachers; native speakers who teach up to 30 languages.
  • We have 8,000 students enrolled each year
  • We run up to 400 seminars per term
  • This newly refurbished Language Resource Centre is the ‘beating heart’ of the department – with 5,000 visits per year!
  • And our students love their studies, with over 90% approval ratings on student questionnaires.

Many of these students are on assessed modules with around 1,500 students studying 12 languages: Arabic, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. And, given my British Council cultural relations background, I’m delighted we also have an assessed module in Intercultural Learning.

Then there are well over 2000 students per term taking evening classes: over 6,000 registrations each academic year, in 23 languages from Arabic to Urdu; that’s 250 to 300 classes each term across The Strand, Waterloo and Guy’s – including now on Saturdays at Lunch times. We have just added British Sign Language and we have Language and Culture Workshops to further broaden the offer and student’s minds.

Here in the Language Resources Centre, students can practice one-to-one speaking practice and take module inductions, plus we can host training and intercultural workshops for staff as well as and students. And as you can see we can now proudly host language and cultural events, in very high quality surroundings.

Just a word from the sponsors… King’s has in the past year spent over £1m on refurbishing the facilities now available to the MLC. And as our wonderful Director Ana de Mediaros tells me, that very tangible support has transformed the department in ways that go far beyond the physical spaces.

But I need very little persuading.

Languages are an investment for all ages, with increasing evidence that learning languages improves cognition – and even helps ward off dementia. Everyone, at every age, is a winner if they get learning languages… I’m steadily adding Italian to my French at the moment!

But the last word I give to Nelson Mandela – and I read this on a wall in a Beijing University: ‘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’.

We all know in our hearts that’s true. And we know we in this room can make a big difference to helping more people to do just that. 


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