Toni Giugliano: Speaking foreign language opens many doors

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I was delighted to read in the News (October 13) that Edinburgh City Council is taking steps to implement the SNP government’s ambitious policy on modern languages.

Telephoning my mum has always been a source of entertainment for anyone within earshot. I start a sentence in Italian and sometimes finish it in English, switching from one to the other, reflexively and unconsciously. That’s how the bilingual mind works – you could spend the entire day thinking in one language and dream in the other. My bilingualism has profoundly shaped me and my politics – speaking two languages allows a deeper understanding of two cultures, two different ways of life and mentalities.

A British Council study has described Scotland’s relationship with languages as “a matter of concern”. It suggested that Scottish businesses are deliberately exporting to Anglophone countries where they can more easily find fluent English speakers to trade with – an indication that our workforce lacks key language skills.

Everyone wants our young people to become confident and cosmopolitan citizens of the world. Learning a language can do that, as it fosters a broad-minded view of the world and an understanding of Scotland’s place in it. And they’ll also have a greater chance of flourishing in a global marketplace.

The entrenched and long-standing British reluctance to learn a second language is not just economically damaging but also culturally embarrassing. In England, the last Labour government abolished the requirement for pupils to learn a language at GCSE level, leading to a significant drop in take-up. In Scotland, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalitions did nothing to reverse the 40 per cent decline in languages take-up at Standard Grade during their time in office. I therefore welcome the action the Scottish Government is taking in introducing the European Union’s 1+2 model, which allows every child to learn two languages in addition to their own.

There are still obstacles that need to be addressed. More co-operation between local authorities, universities, the Scottish Government and language schools is necessary to ensure that pupils and students are aware of the opportunities that Erasmus and similar language exchange programmes offer them. The number of Scottish students studying abroad is far too low.

Languages are a way to savour diversity and foster a respect and understanding of other countries and cultures. They are the route to social cohesion, even to self-knowledge.

To paraphrase Burns, language is the “gift to see ourselves as others see us”.

Toni Giugliano is the SNP’s Holyrood candidate for Edinburgh Western