Aberdeen’s proposal to close language degree programmes might save money but it will impoverish international understanding, says ILCS’s Charles Burdett writing in the Times Higher Education (13 November 2023).

The University of Aberdeen is preparing to consult on plans to make drastic changes to its provision of modern languages. Though it remains committed to language learning as an accompaniment to other degrees, it has signalled its intention to consider withdrawing from the integrated study of language and culture.

The proposal is motivated by a sudden deficit and the university will no doubt have to make difficult choices but the intention to single out modern languages calls for public scrutiny given its implications for how and why we study other languages and cultures.

To begin with, when we are confronted with the horrors of events unfolding in Israel and Gaza, when we witness in real time the expansionist intentions of the world’s authoritarian regimes, and when the enduring legacies of colonialism are everywhere apparent, it is clear that we need to develop the capacity to think in global terms and develop the specialist cultural and linguistic knowledge that enables us to do so.

The danger of separating language from cultural study is that it promotes the belief that, if you share a channel of communication, you are necessarily sharing the same meanings and drawing the same inferences. Only when you see that language is not a neutral tool but an instrument that is embedded in, and expressive of, complex cultural systems do you grasp the difficulty of really achieving shared understanding. A proficiency in language alone will only take you so far in appreciating the intricacy with which people living in different parts of the globe make sense of the realities that they inhabit.

Likewise, it is only through the development of linguistic and cultural competence that you can begin to understand the full extent of the challenges that people face in specific localities – not least the UK, with its huge range of practices, languages and histories of mobility – or which confront the world as a whole.

Read the full article at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/teaching-modern-languages-without-culture-will-harm-global-relations