IN the aftermath of Brexit, Scotland is boldly reasserting its ties with Europe, with the aim, sometime in the future, to rejoin the European Union. However, amidst this pursuit of closer connections, there’s a notable concern – our declining commitment to learning foreign languages.

As a European citizen in Scotland, and a proficient, happy multilingual, it is a bit of a head-scratcher. Here is Scotland, wanting to deepen its European bonds, yet seeing a drop in enthusiasm for picking up languages other than English. Sure, English is often the language of global business, but there is something more profound about conversing in someone’s native tongue.

Think about it – a Scottish negotiating team in the midst of European discussions. English may be the default, but imagine the depth of the dialogue if they could chat in the language of their European counterparts. It’s not just about practicality; it is a symbol of openness, a readiness to engage on a more personal level.

While English may handle the basics, being able to chat in the native language of a potential partner opens doors to cultural insights, shared histories, and establishes a connection that goes beyond the transactional.

READ MORE: Scottish Greens co-chair resigns from executive committee

In a world where English tends to take the spotlight, it is easy to overlook the nuanced beauty of multilingualism. I get it, English is practical, but the real magic of building connections lies in speaking the language of the other person.

The dip in language learning isn’t just an academic worry; it mirrors a mindset that is, I regret to say, maybe not as open as we would like to be. It is a paradox – we want to be European, celebrate the diverse cultures of the continent, work together as a community, yet we hesitate to embrace the very thing that defines that diversity – languages.

The urgency of this matter escalates against the backdrop of Scotland’s post-Brexit narrative. As the country wants to reshape its relationship with Europe, language becomes a key player in this recalibration. It is about authenticity – being European isn’t just about political agreements; it is about connecting on a fundamental human level.

In our interconnected world, where cultural exchange is the key to understanding, being proficient in more than just English is a valuable asset. Scottish students armed with languages beyond English are better equipped to engage with a global community.

Learning another language – French, Chinese, Gaelic, any language really – is an investment in the future, a tool for breaking down barriers beyond just words. Language learning becomes a bridge, a tangible expression of openness to different perspectives.

The National: There's much to be gained from language learning - be it Gaelic or FrenchThere's much to be gained from language learning - be it Gaelic or French

The alarm bells ring louder as we witness the University of Aberdeen contemplating significant cutbacks to its modern languages department. The very existence of honours programmes in French, Gaelic, and Spanish hangs in the balance, facing the grim possibility of closure.

This potential loss of linguistic and cultural diversity within a major university is disconcerting, to say the least.

The university defends these proposals by pointing to a decline in students opting for language degrees. Furthermore, they attribute the dwindling numbers to the aftermath of Brexit, citing a gradual decline in EU students who were once a substantial part of the languages department, including Gaelic.

This isn’t merely a university matter; it’s a serious concern for Scotland’s future, pointing toward a troubling trajectory where vital aspects of our cultural and linguistic heritage are at risk of being eroded.

Adding to the sad scenario, the overall decline in young Scots pursuing European languages is a cause for profound concern. Over the past two decades, there has been a significant drop of more than 30% in the number of students engaging with higher-level language courses.

The stark reality reveals that there are now fewer than a thousand high school students across the entire country delving into Advanced Higher language studies. This plunge not only reflects a disinterest in linguistic exploration but poses a serious threat to Scotland’s future international engagement and cultural interconnectedness.

READ MORE: Historic Scottish firm Baxters confirms job cuts

I delved into the rich world of foreign languages early on. In the French educational system, students embark on the exploration of two compulsory foreign languages, dedicating nearly five hours each week to learning them, at least.

The array of languages to choose from is diverse, including English, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish, Arabic, Polish. In some high schools, there is even the opportunity to add a third language to the mix. For those pursuing vocational training, the commitment to at least one foreign language remains compulsory throughout the entirety of high school, meaning young people learn languages until the age of 17 or 18.

Some students opt for another path known as the “European section”. Students choosing this option receive classes in a foreign language, elevating their linguistic immersion beyond conventional language courses. As an example, my sister chose this route, having her physics and maths classes conducted entirely in English.

This approach not only enhances language proficiency but also demonstrates the integration of foreign languages into core academic subjects. It is a testament to the flexibility and innovation within the educational system, fostering an environment where linguistic diversity is not just studied but actively lived and applied.

In my region, La Région Centre, an innovative pilot project named Trans Europe Centre was launched more than a decade ago. My high school, situated in a small working-class town, had the privilege of being one of the first to take part in this initiative. In this unique programme, students had the opportunity to embark on a language trip with their class for a mere €49 per week.

READ MORE: Stephen Flynn hits back as Anas Sarwar names him amid Thatcher row

The only thing we had to do was to set up a project, conduct research, and present our findings to demonstrate our understanding of the culture, history and challenges of the country we travelled to for a week. This experience became a massive incentive for language learning. We, the students, would journey to Berlin, stay with German families, and delve into the rich history, like the resistance during the Second World War.

It was an immersive and eye-opening adventure, meeting young people, exploring cultures, and creating lasting memories. The visits to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Bundestag (and the wonderful German breakfast with the delicious Brötchen) remain seared in my memory.

Addressing the decline in language learning requires more than a curriculum tweak; it demands a cultural shift.

Language education should be seen not as an optional extra but as a fundamental aspect of a well-rounded education.

Let’s envision a Scotland where our claim of European kinship isn’t limited to political statements but resonates in the everyday conversations of our lives. Let’s walk the talk of being Europeans.

The dwindling interest in language learning isn’t just an educational concern; it reflects Scotland’s openness and commitment to genuine connections. As Scotland looks toward a future intertwined with Europe, embracing linguistic diversity isn’t just a choice but a necessity. It’s an investment in understanding, empathy, and an openness that transcends borders.

In the wise words of Nelson Mandela, “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.”

Let Scotland’s language of love for Europe be … actually learning Europe’s languages.