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'How learning a foreign language changed my life'

The number of teenagers learning foreign languages in UK secondary schools has dropped by 45% since the turn of the millennium, BBC analysis has found.

The reaction to the research was mixed. Why learn a foreign language when English is spoken by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, some people wondered.

Others questioned the need for a second language when translation technology is advancing so quickly.

But many speakers of foreign languages extolled the benefits. Four native English speakers tell the BBC how making the effort to learn a second language is important - and how it changed their life.

'It gave me the confidence to interview footballers'


When Alex Chaffer moved to Germany four years ago, he could only say "hello" and "thank you" in German.

He had not learnt the language at school, but was starting off a career in sports journalism and had the opportunity to go to Germany.


When he first arrived, he discovered his accommodation had fallen through.

"I had been scammed," he said. "I couldn't speak to anyone because I didn't have the language, I was lost."

"The first year I was here I didn't learn a lot. I then had a German girlfriend that helped massively, having someone force me to do it and hearing it around all the time. She would speak in English and I would speak in German."

The 23-year-old is now fluent and works on the website of Germany's top football league, Bundesliga.

He said that in his job, he was "embarrassed to not know the language" and learning German has given him "so much confidence".

"I would be worried about going to the shops and restaurants," he said.

"Even professionally, I didn't interview footballers for three years because I didn't have the confidence in my language but now I can go up to any player. It's totally changed my way of living.

"It's opened me up as a person professionally and personally."

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'I gave my children the gift of a second language'

James Westgarth's first introduction to a foreign language was at school, a comprehensive in west London where he learnt French.

"My parents had no language skills but they encouraged me so I could order food etc when we went on holidays," he said.

"The result is a 23-year international career. I spent 13 years at Airbus in Toulouse and the US and am now a sourcing director at a subsidiary of Lufthansa in Frankfurt." 


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