I am hugely impressed by people who can speak more than one language. If you’re up at three or more, I’m at your feet. I would have kept Roy Hodgson as England’s football manager for as long as he wanted purely because he once gave a post-match press conference moving easily from English to Italian to Swedish. He also has some Norwegian and Finnish.
There was a strange mixture of support and sniffiness when Boris Johnson spoke French last week during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron. On the one side, his supporters said, well he can’t be a non-European bigot because he speaks French. On the other, the argument was, well he still is. Neither stack up. And both miss the point.
Given the hugely expensive private education that Boris Johnson received, I’d be furious if he didn’t have a working ability in at least one modern language. His showiness in bugling out Latin phrases does not come under this. The Latin thing is an affectation.
The problem with learning languages in Britain is that they are increasingly becoming a class issue. State schools are not teaching them in the way they did even 10 years ago. School pupil numbers taking modern languages are collapsing faster than the pound against the euro.
French and German learning has dropped by almost half in English state schools since 2013. In Scotland, 41 per cent of schools that responded to a BBC survey just a few months ago said they’d dropped at least one foreign language course. The picture is similar in Northern Ireland.
You could point to a number of reasons.