The UK government is to make learning a foreign language compulsory in British schools from age 7 (so the Telegraph announced today – see the article here).
But what is more interesting is which languages are to be offered. Latin is back. Greek is back. And Mandarin is to be added to the traditional options of French, German and Spanish.
I personally think this is a very good idea for three reasons. Firstly, it will give young people a grasp of grammar that they cannot get any other way – because there is no instruction in English grammar, in English schools. The knowledge of grammar gained from learning a foreign language is probably helpful as they learn to write grammatically in English.
Secondly, it may take advantage of the so-called critical period during which children are able to learn languages more effectively.
Thirdly, it will make language learning a lot easier for the large numbers of people who will go on to learn another foreign language later in life.
In my work as a proofreader I mainly read writing by international students, and I know how hard it is to master a foreign language and be able to write in it effectively. The earlier we start, the better, since in an increasingly connected world with cosmopolitan cities and companies, Britain can't afford to be monolingual any longer.