I belong to a sort of informal walking club which involves a bunch of middle-aged farts shambling around the Essex countryside for a couple of hours on a Sunday before stopping at a pub for lunch. It’s not exactly exercise, but it’s a great way to find new pubs. The members tend to be reasonably cosmopolitan but I hadn’t realised just how much until today when I counted the number of languages spoken on the one walk among thirteen people. I came up with Swedish, Hungarian, German, Italian and French; there is also a Turkish speaker, though I have never heard her do it. These are only the languages spoken fluently by at least one person — the test of fluency being either that the speaker was brought up in it or that they have worked as a translator to or from in adult life. There is a penumbra of holiday languages — Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, at least — that are spoken with varying degrees of fluency; and two people speak Hausa from having lived in Northern Nigeria for a while.
What provoked this was a grumble about Cambridge University dropping the foreign language requirement for entry, the last British university to do so. Not only is this a bad thing in and of itself but the collapse in British linguistic competence comes from what was once a reasonably high standard.