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Fabric From an Aerosol? LFW 2016 & the Development of ‘Eco-Fabrics’

Today marks the end of London Fashion Week 2016. As you’d expect the line-up included well known British designers such as Julien Macdonald and Vivienne Westwood, as well as featuring collections from Mulberry, Burberry and Alexander McQueen to name but a few.

Established in 1984, LFW has come to be known as one of the “Big Four” alongside New York, Milan and Paris. In other words, LFW is extremely important for those that move in the fashion world; not only is it an opportunity to spy up and coming talent, but to showcase the season’s hottest trends, and advertise a designer’s latest collection – the highlights of which can be found here

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With the gaze of the world upon them, designers and design houses alike strive for innovation, seeking the approval of the media, fashion bloggers and influential clientèle. But as many of us also know, these ‘innovations’ and trends tend come back around every few years or so. Which coincidentally brings us back round to the question of ‘innovation’, and the next frontier of fashion…material, textiles, fabric.

Whilst the industry has seen it’s fair share of strange materials, namely chocolate, zips and faux-skin, none have had the potential reach and real-life application of Fabrican. Using either a spray gun or aerosol, “the fabric is formed by the cross-linking of fibres which adhere to create an instant non-woven fabric that can be easily sprayed on to any surface” – Manel Torres even used the technology as part of his SS2012 show entitled Intsant flowers.

The technology “speeds up the traditional way of constructing garments”, can be used for “general binding, lining, repairing, covering and moulding”, and can create bespoke “seamless garments” – a  potential treasure trove for the fashion world*.

So what else is out there? A whole lot more than you could possibly have imagined, and it’s sorely underused. Science has transformed the textile landscape, and spawned a whole host of “eco-fabrics” in recent years from fermented wine, to wood pulp (Naoran), corn (Ingeo), old milk (Qmilch) and beyond. Considering the waste and pollution involved in the fashion industry as a whole, these eco-fabrics could prove revolutionary. Not only could they shake up the commercial fashion world, but promote ecological stability, the use of recycled materials and changes to the manufacturing side of clothing. These things are more important now than ever before – if we are to meet the goals of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, and tackle the “most urgent threat facing our species”(Leonardo DiCaprio, 2016), then serious changes need to be made to the way we consume and manufacture goods.

So when we talk about pollution, maybe it’s time we also talked about as yet untapped options available to us, including eco-friendly textiles. For these to succeed however, leaders and designers within the fashion industry need to be involved, particularly if it’s to trickle down into the mainstream fashion world.

*Fabrican are also keen to stress the technology’s adaptability – it can be used for medical purposes, spill management, as well as for industrial application.

 

 

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The National Media Museum, The Northern Powerhouse & the North-South Divide

Recently it was announced that an archive of over 400,000 photos would be transferred from Bradford’s National Media Museum to the V&A Museum in London. The news was met with huge criticism; the story was covered by many national media outlets who questioned the decision, and a petition entitled Stop the Cultural Asset Stripping of Bradford’s National Media Museum was set up to halt the move. It’s a sore subject, and one that encapsulates the general feeling of injustice in the North, that the already culturally vibrant capital has “acquired” yet another valuable piece of heritage.

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national media museum

The museum has a rich history, but like many other museums and galleries, in recent years it has faced an increasing number of financial challenges due to cuts. Unfortunately some have succumbed to closure as they are no longer deemed ‘financially viable’. But this in itself presents a problem with how culture is cultivated and measured – as Ben Myers points out, the cuts are indicative of “an administration that singularly fails to judge the value of culture in anything but fiscal terms“. The message is clear, investment is about return rather than preservation.

This perhaps accounts for why a disproportionate amount of funding is allocated to the South, or more specifically London – a report found that “the combined spending of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England amounted to £68.99 per head in London and a meagre £4.58 per head in the rest of England. Lottery spending on the arts in the previous two decades was judged to be £165.00 per Londoner and £46.77 elsewhere” [newstatesman.com].

Whichever way you look at it, there is money available – maybe not as much as before, but available nonetheless. So if there is money to spend, why does the North seem to be suffering more than most? Why can’t the funding be used to support arts and culture nationally, rather than leaving 1 in 5 regional museums at least part closed?

In an idealistic world, there is no reason why the distribution of funding cannot be redressed. This is not however, an idealistic world. As long as London occupies a cultural pedestal, and Westminster continues to favour the South, the North-South divide will continue to grow.

Take the “Northern Powerhouse” that was promised by George Osborne and David Cameron during the 2015 General Elections. The Tories set out to “transform Northern growth, rebalance the country’s economy and establish the North as a global powerhouse“. The potential benefits are huge, and investment is what the North wants and needs, yet as far as the public is concerned, not much seems to have happened since…

HS2, the transport network that would better connect the North and a key part of the Tories ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision, has had a particularly rough ride over the past year or so – major concerns over planned routes have emerged, as have escalating costs.

As for Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ itself, one man on BBC’s Question Time recently described it as “buzzwords and jingoism“, an empty promise from Cameron’s Tory government to narrow the economic North-South divide, and cement the “North as a global centre for innovation and trade“.

Whilst Osborne and his colleagues may shrug off this criticism, many in the North echo these concerns over the lack of tangible results. Even more worryingly in a recent, albeit somewhat limited poll, it was found that “more than two in five adults in the North of England […] have never heard of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ (44%) [and] a further one in five (20%) say they have heard of it, but know nothing about it“.

Considering the bold claims made by the Government about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, this seems absurd, not least because “it is simply not true” according to Amber Rudd MP, that nothing is happening.

Whether you believe that the Government is actually committed to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ or not, it is difficult to see how much, if anything, has really changed for the North of England – employment has risen but wages remain low, there are more employment opportunities but the North struggles to “attract and to retain talent“, and crucially people are sceptical that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will even materialise. It’s time the Government is pressured into keeping it’s promises – although given the amount of broken ones* left in it’s wake since May of last year, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

*Not cutting in-work benefits. Not cutting child benefits. Tax-free childcare by Autumn 2015. A budget surplus by 2019. No change to Sunday Trading. Pledges on Child Poverty. Government transparency. The list goes on

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World First: Gene Editing Approved – Paving the Way for GM Babies?

This week big news in the medical world was announced: for the first time ever, a “country has considered the DNA-altering technique in embryos and approved it“. In effect, scientists have been given the green light to ‘edit’ human embryos in a bid to better understand the earliest stages of human life. The results could prove invaluable, and yet talk seems to swirl around the dangers of paving the way for “designer babies”.

Whilst it’s undeniable that “GM babies” is a highly controversial and contentious topic, not just in the medical field, are our fears about what this new research signals founded?

Largely, no. When people use the term “designer baby”, we tend to conjure images of couples browsing catalogues and ticking off the “perfect” characteristics for their future child: brown hair ✓, athletic ✓, blue eyes ✓ and so on. This is categorically not however, the aim of research to be led by Dr Kathy Niakan, and in choosing to focus on the minuscule possibility (legally and ethically speaking) of this vision becoming a reality in the immediate or near future, the immense value of the research at hand is being belittled by scaremongering.

Scaremongering might seem like a harsh term to use in this particular circumstance, but given the nature of the research as described by Dr Niakan, it’s hard to refute that certain sectors of the press haven’t played upon unfounded fears – namely The MirrorThe Daily Mail & The Sun, who coincidently used my favourite doomsday style headline of them all…

“Designer babies are coming to the UK: Scientists bid to engineer DNA despite ethical fears”

At this point it’s also worth addressing the fact that when people talk about designer babies, they are generally referring to a human whose aesthetic appearance has been biologically and artificially modified. There is absolutely no aesthetic angle to the research: it is purely to better understand how embryos develop. Similarly, the research is solely experimental at this stage and it will be illegal to implant the modified embryos into a womb.

So what will it actually be used for, or rather what are the possible end goals for the research in real life application [if it ever reaches that stage]? Well, the project will most likely be used to improve IVF methodology, and potentially in turn increase IVF success rates. Funnily enough,  IVF or “test-tube” babies, have a similarly turbulent legal and ethical history to the embryo research set to take place. In spite of fears at the time about what IVF could signal, it is now a widely accepted technique that is used across the world.

A few final words then: there are strict regulatory bodies that consider the legal, ethical and social implications of scientific, medical research. These regulatory bodies follow stringent rules and procedures, in other words gaining approval is no mean feat. Being such high profile research, you can also guarantee that the findings will be closely monitored and analysed by experts, the media and the public from across the world – there will be no bending of the rules.

NB: For those of you that are interested, in China doctors have already used genetic engineering (the CRISPR/Cas9 technique) to correct a blood disorder in a human embryo, though approval was sought after the fact [Prof. Robin Lovell-Badge].

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The Allure of Espionage, Magic & Crosswords

We have long had a fascination with espionage, the lives of secret agents and cryptic codes hidden in the most ordinary of messages. For some, espionage conjures images of Bond, high octane adventure and glamorous living, whilst others imagine darkened rooms, with secret agents hunched over desks listening to tape recordings, and chasing criminals on the dark web. Personally I’m inclined to lean towards the latter, although in reality it seems fair to assume that espionage is largely neither of these things – by its very nature espionage is highly secretive work, with long running investigations spanning months, if not years, and endless hours of trawling through useless information. A far cry from 007 and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

So why are we fascinated by this world? Why is it that we are drawn to the idea of spies and secret messages?

Besides grand notions of fast living and cheap thrills, the most obvious, and perhaps simplistic answer, is that as humans we are predictable. By this it is meant that as social creatures, we are naturally drawn to intrigue and knowledge as it can place us in the best possible position – as the saying goes, knowledge is power. This desire for information is further compounded by our own inquisitiveness – we have a need to know, whether that’s how something is done, why something is the way it is, or what we are missing.

Below is a clip from the TV programme Penn & Teller: Fool Us in which magicians are challenged to perform a trick that will ‘fool’ the audience, but more importantly consummate professionals Penn and Teller.

There is nothing particularly exceptional about it (aside from the standard of magic) that would distinguish it from many other magic videos on the internet. What is interesting about it however, is the comment section:

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This is just a small handful of comments, but as you can see they revolve around how the trick was done; it is dissected in minute detail, referenced against time stamps on the video and discussed amongst the online community. Note also the language that is used: “I know…”, “he obviously…”, “get it?”. Not “knowing” can be incredibly frustrating, whilst “knowing” offers a certain degree of power and superiority over those that don’t understand how the trick works.

Now, magic is just one example of how we tend to try and work out how something is done. You might also be thinking that this has little to do with our fascination with espionage: cue crosswords. Look in any magazine, or any newspaper and chances are you’ll find one. They are incredibly popular, and employ some of the most basic principles of code breaking. Whether you’re 12 or 57, finishing a crossword or cracking a particularly hard clue is satisfying, and triumphing where others have failed has certain thrill.

It is as close as many of us will get, or indeed want to be, to the world of espionage but to deny that it holds a certain appeal doesn’t seem logical. Take GCHQ’s recent Christmas puzzle below – this was the first task that participants were challenged to unlock, in an increasingly difficult series of cryptographic puzzles.

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Over half a million people took part, and I am sure that you’re wondering whether you yourself could crack the code – FYI no one managed to get all the answers right, and just three managed to come the closest.

The world of espionage however is not wholly about code-breaking. In the field it’s also about being able to read people, and gaining the trust of others. When it comes to the latter, a spy’s ability is tested to the limit – they possess at least two identities, one is superficial and the other is real. Naturally they must assume the same about everyone with whom they come into contact; the challenge is to distinguish between them, to identify whether the person that is presented to them is ‘real’ or whether it is a façade.

And guess what, everyone likes to think that they are a good judge of character. It’s why we like to pick who we think is the “baddie” in films and single out characters who might have ulterior motives. In other words, we like to think that we are intelligent and know better – what I would term the “I would know” mentality, of which espionage is the ultimate test.

Despite high profile cases highlighting the darker side of espionage – the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, or the death of Gareth Williams for example- it seems unlikely that our fascination with this hidden world will end any time soon. So whether you imagine high octane adventure and glamorous living, or darkened rooms with secret agents hunched over desks listening to tape recordings, its mystique is half of the appeal.

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Surprises in the Obesity Crisis

Nearly everyday the news makes reference the growing obesity crisis that is sweeping the west. Despite common knowledge of the risks associated with being overweight, the financial costs that it puts upon healthcare systems, and the benefits of an active lifestyle, efforts to change attitudes and behaviours have so far done very little to reverse the trend.

You could place the blame on a number of factors; increasingly sedentary lifestyles, food prices/promotions, time constraints, lack of information in terms of budgeting and cooking. Undoubtedly some of these factors cross over into the realms personal responsibility, but there is also another big factor that never seems to even cross people’s minds. Perception.

When news articles contain images of overweight individuals or groups of people, what they are actually showing are images of people who are obese, or morbidly obese. As visual aids to news reports, these images are chosen for maximum impact and to highlight the seriousness of the report. But when we are constantly bombarded with these images, our perception begins to change – we now cannot so easily recognise when people are overweight, because in comparison to the images we often see, these people are noticeably smaller. There are numerous articles outlining this problem, a few years ago The Sun reported that a poll found that “51% of parents cannot spot a child who is clinically obese“, the NHS highlighted that many teenagers are unaware that they are overweight, and diabetes.co.uk reported that “more than a third of obese adults perceive themselves as being just overweight; a fifth of overweight adults think that they are healthy“. The problem? That we don’t recognise that there is one in the first place.

In many countries, not just the UK, our perception of weight-loss is highly distorted. People joke that adopting a healthy lifestyle will consist of eating “rabbit food” for the rest of your life, caught in an endless cycle of eating bland salad after bland salad. These stereotypes are not productive, and they don’t accurately reflect reality. Fad diets are not the way to tackle obesity, and as a summer camp featured in I Know What You Weighed Last Summer proves, it is all about education and learning to adapt to your surroundings. The camp recognises that fast food chains and unhealthy choices are everywhere, and that it is unrealistic to expect young people especially to give them up completely – instead they encourage the young people to make good choices when confronted with these obstacles, choosing healthier options within their calorie allowance.

It is not what we expect, and so perhaps changing our perception of obesity could be the very thing that helps tackle the problem. After all a lot of people think that the obesity crisis is restricted to wealthy countries in the West, wrong – it may surprise a lot of people to know that Tonga is the world’s most obese country, that Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have extremely high obesity rates. That developing countries such as India have seen a massive rise in obesity, particularly amongst the rich, after adopting western cuisines and fast food chains. This is global epidemic, and we can’t wait any longer to turn things around.

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Cashing In – The UK Gambling Industry

The UK gambling industry is worth billions. And like any other industry, the success of gambling companies relies on effective and targeted advertising campaigns. As a result, in recent years the UK has been bombarded with advertisements for sports betting, online bingo, online casinos, Euromillions and the National Lottery, to name but a few.

In line with the current popularity of gambling in any form, the industry professes to be “mindful of its social responsibilities“, operating under “stringent licensing conditions designed to protect and help problem gamblers”. So great is the industry’s concern that out of the many billions that it makes each year, between “2012-2013 the industry contributed over £5 million via the Responsible Gambling Trust, and is expected to contribute over £6 million in 2013-2014“. The industry is also keen to stress it’s voluntary contribution to research funding, education and treatment related to gambling addiction. The sincerity of the industry’s contribution to such endeavours is understandably questionable, but it also raises questions about the industry’s commitment to tackling problems associated with addiction.

Gambling has well and truly been normalised, and for those suffering with gambling addiction, temptation is everywhere. The language that advertisers use is also of huge interest in the debate; naturally the aim of the game is to encourage people to use a particular gambling ‘service’, but by using words such as “guarantee” and “free bonus” the risk that comes with gambling is somewhat obscured. Many advertisers are also partial to using imperatives, encouraging the consumer to “bet now“. Gone are the days when you would have to enter a betting shop to gamble, now it is easier than ever and you don’t even have to leave the house – you can choose to bet by phone, online or via an app. Not only are these companies cashing in on convenience, but also on split-second decisions. As such it’s clear to see why the gambling industry has enjoyed so much success.

The question is, is there enough regulation? Be in no illusion, there are strict age limits, and stringent rules about the advertising of gambling. There are however weak points in the system. For starters, there is no “watershed” for adverts – so long as they are not targeted at children, or feature in between programmes targeted at children, they can be shown at any time. But for televised sports events which are watched by people of all ages, sponsors and advertisers tend to include betting companies. Teams and players, that often act as role models for younger people, also tend to be sponsored by gambling companies, with sports kits endorsing their services.

The gambling commission’s rules also appear at a surface level to have room for manoeuvre: when it comes to promotional offers, “As a general rule, conditions and factors which are likely to affect a consumer’s decision to participate in a promotion […] must appear, with sufficient prominence, in the advert itself. […] If time or space is genuinely limited (for example a small pop-up banner) then these conditions must be made available within one click“.

There are also multiple age restrictions in place for different forms of gambling; under the Gambling Act 2005 Part 4 Protection of Children and Young Persons one must be 16 to take part in the National Lottery, the Euromillions draw, or to buy a scratch card. 18 to enter a casino/place bets within other licensed gambling premises, or to play some gaming machines. Whilst some gaming machines, “prize gaming” at non-licensed family entertainment centres and “prize gaming” at fairs, has no age limit.

With the rise of the internet and apps, the rules and regulations that are in place to protect vulnerable people might no longer be sufficient. Whilst companies provide links to gambleaware, contribute voluntarily to research projects, and display text that tells the consumer to “gamble responsibly”, their main concern still lies with making money, not asking people to step back and consider the risks. That is not say that there is anything wrong with gambling so long as it is responsible, but that perhaps it’s time to review the rules so that they reflect the changes within the gambling industry…

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Time to do away with New Year’s Resolutions?

By now many of you will have either a). thought about making a New Year’s resolution b). made a New Years resolution c). declared that New Year’s resolutions are silly and no one ever sticks to them, or perhaps even d). have made a New Year’s resolution and proceeded to break it. [Bonus points if you’ve done more than one of the above].

It’s also highly likely that by now many of you have also ruminated on the merits of making New Year’s resolutions in the first place, given that no one really seems to stick to them beyond a month or two, after which point they are forgotten or ignored.

From a logical perspective, the fact that millions of people only decide to change something about their lives at a specific point in time each year, is absurd. What makes it all the more fascinating is that more often than not, these resolutions involve goals that people have not spontaneously settled on, but which have been bubbling away in the background for quite some time. Continuously breaking them year after year, whether you want to call it a rite of passage or not, seems even sillier and perhaps in the long-term damaging.

This may appear extreme, but consider that we are constantly told that the world doesn’t owe us anything, if you want something you have to go out and graft for it. Waiting for the next year to declare that there is something you want to set out and do, is a waste of time and a complete contradiction of this. Meeting your goals also means changing something, working to get there – a change in the date isn’t going to do this for you, so what exactly is wrong with starting now, as soon as you want to make the change? It also teaches you nothing about discipline by constantly setting up and failing to meet the challenges you set.

Now that’s not to say that New Year’s resolutions are all bad – they can breed positive changes in people, allow people to reflect on changes they want to make to their lives, and give people the push they need to actually make them. But what if we simply dropped the “New Year’s” part and just kept the “resolution”? Then perhaps because people wouldn’t be tempted to put off whatever it is they’ve been putting off any longer, they’d just go out and do it…

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How Much Money is Too Much Money?

Since the economic recession of 2008-2013, many of us have had to learn to take greater care of our money, and survive within sometimes drastically limited means. Even now, despite claims that Britain’s own economy is on the mend, the heat is still being felt by a high percentage of families across the UK.

But what about the other end of the spectrum – what is like for those that live without financial restriction, and how much money is too much money?

Naturally, the answer to this question is entirely subjective. How people choose to spend their money differs, some prefer to spend it on charitable enterprises, others on lavish displays of wealth and investment deals. Equally, the appeal of money to some means that you can never have too much of the stuff, whilst others declare that when you don’t have a clue what to do with it all, that’s when you’ve got more than enough.

So perhaps the better question surrounds public opinion of money, and those that are declared ‘rich’.

With the promise of ‘happiness’, and pitched as the resolution to all your problems, it is easy to understand why money is rightly or wrongly used as an indicator of personal success. And in recent years with the rise of social media, ‘personal success’ is a hot topic that has garnered a lot of attention, spawning programmes and articles about the “The Rich Kids of Instagram“, “The World’s Most Expensive Christmas” and “How much money do you need to join the super-rich?

In many ways it is fascinating to see how other people spend their money, and how vastly different to our own spending habits it is. But it can also appear brazen and unashamedly ostentatious – flaunting money unnecessarily on items that will be seen/used once before being flung to the bottom of the pile. This is often encouraged on social media sites, as account holders gain more ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ as their displays of wealth become grander and more orchestrated. Now this by no means accounts for every ‘rich’ person out there, and should not overshadow the philanthropic gestures made by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

It does however suggest a tendency towards materialism over happiness, the outcome of which is most likely damaging. These ‘rich kids of Instagram’ and ‘money is no object’ people are no longer merely living comfortably, and perhaps this is the line at which a lot of money becomes too much money. And whilst it might be unfair to berate those that have earned or been fortunate enough to inherit vast sums of money, who are spending well within their means, there is something to be said of “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”.

 

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Time to Learn a Language that isn’t English?

At some point or other most of us have witnessed a “conversation” that consists of pointing, hands being waved about and attempts to second guess the remainder of someone’s sentence, all in a bid to make sense of what the other person is trying to communicate. Most of the time it works – a handful of words, and universal body language/hand signals can take you surprisingly far. It may not be perfect but it does the job.

At some point or other, most of us have also probably travelled to another country where our grasp of the language is limited at best. Cue pointing, hand waving and stilted sentence constructions that make little sense. At this point though something very different tends to happen – the person you are talking to begins to speak English (to varying degrees of competency), and you follow the lead, reverting back to English.

For some this might not seem strange in the slightest, English is after all a Lingua Franca  and one that most care to learn from an early age. It would make sense that you both try to communicate in a language that you both understand. But it also highlights the fact that Foreign Language learning is not prioritised in the UK, perhaps in part because we have become accustomed to non-native English speakers being able to speak the language – it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “there’s no point, everyone speaks English anyway”.

To accept this lackadaisical attitude is dangerous. The UK operates within an increasingly global market, and we are startlingly far behind when it comes to Languages. From a business perspective it doesn’t make any sense – having bothered to learn a language, to want to actively engage with another country and to develop strong links with it, can have a huge impression on potential clients and colleagues. Even from a personal perspective learning a foreign Language can be extremely rewarding – it’s challenging but studies have shown that it can improve cognitive function.

So why is it that over the past few years Foreign Language departments in schools have been cut? The most obvious answer is the “economic plan” following the recession, but as the ATC’s General Secretary even states “the UK’s failure to recognise the importance of foreign language learning is costing the economy £48 billion a year, or 3.5% of GDP in lost exports, according UK Trade & Investment (UKTI)”.

It would be unfair however to wholly blame cut backs in the public sector for our poor attitude towards language learning; this has been a recurring theme for years. So, other possible explanations?

It’s difficult to implement a culture of language learning. Wrong. Look at our European and Asian counterparts – France teaches English to primary school children upwards, China places huge importance on English, and Sweden consistently produces a large number of non-native English speakers.

Science and technology is valued over languages. Largely, yes. The science industry is growing, and for the technology sector the sky is the limit, but if you invest equally, the rewards could be just as great, bringing new trade and opportunities.

We have become lazy, and when the opportunity presents itself, we are too often scared of getting it wrong and looking silly. On an individual scale, this is the reason most often cited for not using or developing foreign language skills. Getting it wrong is part of learning anything new, which makes it all the more absurd that fear of this would hold people back.

In essence it’s about time that we re-evaluate our relationship with language learning. The opportunities that it could afford us are endless…

**If you’re interested in learning a new language there are lots of resources out there if you know where to look. Here’s just a selection: DuolingoLivemochaBabbelmemrise & busuu.

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