I believe in today’s world, and especially for a European, foreign languages are essential. Many would agree, but too often we only see languages as a mean for communication or better opportunities in the labour market. While this aspect is indeed relevant, I believe that studying foreign languages gives you a much better insight into another culture and thus the ability to see the world from a different perspective and keep an open-minded attitude.

Many countries do fail to offer sufficient opportunities for children and young people schools should offer another foreign language beyond English from the start and throughout high school. When high school offers different tracks, all tracks should have access to languages even if as an afterschool activity.

Another central aspect is the lack of work experience of the youth in some countries. When they graduate high school, most Americans and many kids in the Anglo-Saxon world more in general have been part of the labour market with temporary part time jobs. This allows them to develop at an early age those general skills necessary to succeed. Moreover, younger students often intern in businesses and volunteer organizations before entering university. That constitutes an enrichment opportunity for teenagers and can aid them in selecting their educational path, especially in a system in which we select our major when entering university.

Personally, I was able to access similar opportunities through volunteering. It has given me many chances to grow, also helping fellow students or children in the process. Moreover, when it’s a long-term commitment, you are able to learn a large set of skills as your responsibilities change over time, and also have “work experience” in fields and tasks that often would rarely be covered by an official internship.

Schools could also play an important role, working closely with local associations they can better direct students where opportunities in line with their interests are, creating a more active community and giving kids a chance to prove themselves, feel passionate about a cause or help people in need.

Incentives should be put in to place to encourage students to take up these opportunities, also building on programs already into place, giving preferential treatment to students that enriched their education through languages and volunteer experiences.

Mixed bag of language skills

Europe is a very mixed bag as far as language skills are concerned. My impression is that English has become very widely spoken as a second language in many European countries. There are some exceptioms. like Italy and Spain (I have a mixed impression of France, where I live now); but overall Europe - including Eastern Europe - now has a shared lingua franca.

This process has greatly increased the importance of English as a connecting, enabling tool. At the same time, it seems to have depreciated other languages somewhat. I speak reasonably good Spanish, a bit of German, but I hardly ever use them (Spanish a little more); after moving to France I taught myself some French, but even living here the incentives to get better at the French language are not really there. Once you can do your groceries and make small talk in French, once you can understand a written text… well, then you end up doing most of your reading, video watching etc. on the Internet, and most Internet content is in English (unless you read Mandarin, which I don’t).

That’s so true, I spent

That’s so true, I spent some time in France as well and… I ended up speaking in english most of the time. It takes dedication to find opportunities to practice other languages. And I do believe they are still useful, being able to easily communicate because we all speak english is great but when you learn a language (and I think french is a great example) you understand so much better how people “think” in that culture. I think it’s a fundamental aspect of a truly intercultural attitude. Plus, education-wise it’s still a requirement (I think luckily) and in many internships and job applications it is considered, especially in international organizations.

That’s funny… In my case, I speak (in papers at least…) five languages and I love learning new in every occasion… BUT everytime when I start speaking a different language than english, I end up speaking … english!

I am Greek and I think it’s fundamental for us to speak foreign languages, so my parents decided to give me french education by subscribing me in a “ecole Franco Hellenic”. There was a time when french was almost as my mother tongue (given that I have French relatives) but then internet came into my life… I started using it everyday and getting more used of english!

When I was studying last year in Paris and even living with a French roommate I never talked in French… I was embarrased and I was thinking that english is a quicker and safer way of communication but, if we never practise all the other languages that we used to learn how can we be better?

For me, learning foreign languages shows a general education and a social interest and respect for other cultures that can be reflected in all the aspects of our life … even if english “flushes” our routines :slight_smile:

I couldn’t agree more! What

I couldn’t agree more! What you say about your room mate applies to me as well… . We should learn to “take the risk” and use our weaker languages any chance we get, but I often do exactly the opposite because. I never really use my weaker languages, I feel so bad and disrespectful messing them up, especially with native speakers. English is different probably because we start speaking it when we are children. I was exposed to another foreign language as a child and I can understand it quite easily, but when it comes to speaking… that’s something I learnt much later and I feel very awkward about it, with my far from perfect accent. 

And as you said, we should keep in mind the cultural aspect: foreign languages do not make sense solely becouse they are useful…

To understand better, may I ask you from where are you? and when did you start learning foreign languages? I am very curious about other educational systems around Europe and the issue of teaching foreign languages!

I am very curious about your country’s system as well, I am from Italy and I think our schools fail to teach foreign languages properly. We do study english since elementary school, but quite often kids can barely put a simple sentence together unless they had additional opportunities to learn. I think it’s mostly there’s little focus on speaking skills and more on grammar, we also fail to use television and movies to expose children to english since everything is dubbed. We have so much to learn from other european countries!

For what concerns other foreign languages, we are even worse! I don’t think we have any in public elementary school (I’m not completely sure) and while we have them in middle school and high school there would be a few “classi” of 25 (?) kids having access to them. We also have a language track in high school, in which you study (I think) three foreign languages but the possibility I mentioned before is disappearing with the lastest reform and soon we are not going to have any foreign language beyond english in the other tracks.

Personally I also went to a bilingual school early on, went to summer programs, and later on exchange programs… It feels like in Italy much depends on private efforts.

However, few things have probably changed since I went to primary school and I know that now even some public kindergarten attempt to familiarize children with english.


actually I had this


actually I had this conversation yesterday with my Austrian roommate about how educational systems treat foreign languages. I am Greek and I went to a private french - greek school (as i have already mentioned) so for me it was obligatory to learn french, but in public schools the foreign language comes at the last classes of primary school (at the age of around 10). To tell the truth I don’t have experience how intensive it is or if it really works but as far as I have seen, most of the Greeks in my age they speak one (english) foreign language pretty well and a second one in an intermediate level.

I think it helps also that movies and TV are not dubbed so it is easier at least to get used of the sound. Although our accent is faaaar from the British one… and I really don’t know why… I keep asking my self why Scandinavians are most of them almost native English speakers and we are not… and the only answer I can’t find is that maybe we are not taught the correct way. During classes (depending of course on the teacher) we mostly talk in English or French but still Greek presence is there…

Some months ago I started an adult course of German. The experience was completely different. The teacher entered the class and she started talking ONLY in German, even when she needs to explain something she does it in German or in “pantomime” … even if sometimes I get frustrated I think it really helps! I don’t know if at the end it is just a matter of maturity and will (when we are children, we all felt a bit of parents pressure on studying languages) or it has to do with the system…

I would like to hear more as well from Adria who lives in Copenhagen… maybe she could give us more insight about Scandinavian educational system :slight_smile:

Agree, but need more background

Hi brightfutureforall :slight_smile: interesting username,

I agree with everything you said, and the discussion of schooling system not offering enough opportunities is recurring at Edgeryders - you should get in touch with Giacomo, he already has famous reports on education: http://edgeryders.ppa.coe.int/share-your-ryde/mission_case/frustrated-educational-system-designing-service-end-it and he just wrote me he graduated, and so happily he is DONE with it.  Where do you stand on that? is it only languages and work opportunities or more?

What I woud ask you is to give a little more context, since what Alberto said rings true as well… particularly in Eastern Europe where I come from, English is our second language, 1. because of the education systems - you definitely study at least 2 foreign languages in school (starting kindergarden ) where one is English and is thoroughly studied and 2. because of the mainstream consumerism : note that in my country TV programs, movies in English are not dubbed - we only use subtitles. So we grew up with those . and 3. of course, the Internet.  This is Romania… from what I see Hungary is nothing like that, so maybe not all Eastern Europe or Europe for that matter.

Also with finding work, aside from menial jobs, there is no job offer NOT requiring a second, well spoken language… even if you’re not actually using it if you get the job… but it’s something that’s the common sense rule.

Where did you study? I looked up your Edgeryders profile but it is empty :frowning:  When you have the time I’d be curious to read a Share your Ryde report here, that would add context!

Lovely to read you,


Some background and comments

Dear Noemi,

thank you for your comment and for pointing out Giacomo’s report.

I am close to being done with school as well, and while I do find the bureaucratic aspects of university pretty frustrating, I have to say I am satisfied with most of my coursework and professor.  I study in Italy as well and I have been exposed to the american system during an exchange. I agree with Giacomo that theirs can be a lot more engaging, but I think that experience helped me see the advantages of our “methods”  and I am satisfied of the choices I made so far.

However, having some meaningful work experience before graduation feels much harder here than it would have been in the US, and even if you do manage to get an intership you it’s likely you are going to have meaningless tasks. That’s why I find personally and from the experience of other friends that volunteering for a non-profit you can get more exerience and responsabilities by doing something meaningful. I think we badly need some framework allowing students to do exactly this instead of intership, and a general recogniction that this kind of experience can be valuable.

Moving on to languages, we are not so lucky in our country. Even english is still a challenge for some, and high shcool programs offering two second languages are disappering, with the exception of the “language high school” track. I was in fact referring to athird languages, which as Alberto said, have been penalized lately by the diffusion of english and I also think the lack of specific incentives in the education system and beyond.

If you have any specific questions feel free to ask, I did try to fill out the project section but for some reason nothing appears there… I will do as you suggest and write a presentation post.

Thank you again for your insights and your questions.

Yup, misunderstood English as second language.

Thanks for pointing that out about English, much clearer now.

About internships (menial, underpaid or whatever) vs volunteering… I couldn’t really tell a difference in professional outcome. But the personal added value you get from volunteering may be higher indeed in some cases: you’re doing smth solely for the love of doing it, and have no boss :). This is not to say all internships are like that and you waste your time, I was lucky enough to be doing something meaningful and have my work appreciated, and it finished with me having my first job… and I know plenty of cases both successful and unsuccessful.