Language learning – the route to international understanding and harmony

Foreign Language Book Shop Sign

The present-day aims of the Bell Foundation, evolved from the experiences of Frank Bell.

He was convinced that international understanding and harmony could exist if people throughout the world understood each other through language.

As a WWII prisoner-of-war in Java and in defiance of prison camp rules, he had established an ‘undercover university’, organising classes in languages (Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Italian and Russian), history and public speaking.  On his return to the UK, he founded the first Bell English Language School in 1955 in Cambridge.

Today the Trust believes:

… that all children, including those who speak English as an Additional Language, should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.   

Diana Sutton, current Director of The Bell Foundation states:

“As there are now over 1.5 million EAL learners in English state funded schools (18% of the school population), it is likely that the majority of teachers will, at some point in their career, be teaching in a multilingual, multicultural school.”

The 1.5m figure has ‘more than doubled over the last ten years’, and ‘continues to increase, with a fifth of primary pupils (21.2%) and 16.6% of UK secondary school pupils now classified as EAL.

The UK Government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED) defines the term ‘English as an Additional language (EAL) in its guidelines to school inspectors.  It states that ‘English as an Additional language refers to learners whose first language is not English’.  It adds that:

The learner may already be fluent in several other languages or dialects, which is why the term English as a second language (ESL or E2L) is inappropriate and should not be used in inspection reports.

The fact that 1.5m already speak (in OFSTED’s words) ‘other languages or dialects’ offers a glimmer of hope to counter headlines about the declining uptake of modern language learning in schools.  Could it be that some pupils are not opting to learn a language, because they already know more than one?

If key to learning a language is exposure to it, home is an obvious place to start.  At the same time, speaking in a mother tongue is not necessarily the same as being fluent in it, or equally proficient across all the skills of speaking, reading, listening or writing.

For those who’ve never considered learning another language, even their own, the benefits are endless.

Languages ‘as a way to access other cultures and their world views’, the ‘intercultural benefits of language learning’ and ‘the varied career opportunities that languages can support’ are amongst the benefits mentioned by Claire Gorrara, Professor of French Studies, Cardiff University, who writes about how mentoring can improve the uptake of modern languages in schools.

So even if you already speak one or more languages at home, from Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin, Tibetan; Japanese, Korean; Amharic, Hausa, Somali, Swahili, Xhosa, Yorùbá, Zulu; Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Kurdish, Pashto, Persian, Turkish; Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Nepali, Panjabi, Sinhala, Tamil, Urdu, Burmese, Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Vietnamese,  French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, to English or another language – it’s never too late to consider studying it formally (or embarking on a totally new one).  Three SOAS students describe what language learning has meant to them.

Further information

School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics degree programmes

East Asian Languages and Cultures degree programmes

SOAS Language Centre














Share this post