Every day, many companies, businesses and firms look for German, French, Spanish language skills. Staff capable of speaking fluently any of those languages is better paid and highly appreciated by employers. Paradoxically, the UK’s education system is not promoting foreign language learning so this need is often met by contracting workers from other European nations.
The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) carried out a survey in co-operation with Pearson Education and Skills, which revealed nearly two-thirds of the 300 British companies that were contacted thought they would be likely to hire people with foreign language skills than monolinguals.
Although successive British governments have repeatedly claimed more school children are learning a foreign language, and that the teaching of foreign languages was core to bring the country closer to Europe, the research points to an “alarming shortage” of people with foreign language skills even in the world’s major languages.
Just as it happens in the rest of Europe, the survey also predicts that foreign languages will become more and more important as companies averywhere are more export-diven than ever before and look for new markets. The UK has long lagged behind language learning compared to its European neighbours, often relying on finding someone who has studied the English language at school. The cost of language skills deficit costs the UK £48bn a year, according to The Guardian. The article quoted Nick Brown, CEO of Nikwax, a UK-based manufacturer of cleaning and waterproofing products that exports to 50 countries, producing print materials in 48 languages. “English is fine if you want to buy things, but it’s not the right language to use for people who want to sell things” he said. So, by speaking only English, one can himself at a disadavantage of being only a “buyer” and not a “seller” when it comes to doing business.
Most Sought After Languages by UK firms
French (50%), closely followed by German (49%) and a growing Spanish (44%) are believed to be the most useful (and sought-after) languages. Non-European languages such as Arabic (23%) and Mandarin (31%) are also on the rise as well, according to a BBC report. Language skills for phone interpreting and business translation are highly valued.
Last year, the British Council published a report stating that British schools should offer a wider choice of languages to their students and that languages should obtain the same status as subjects such as maths or sciences -which is the case in most European countries, a fact that explains why apparently other nations seem to be better at languages. Scandinavian countries are well-known for having education systems where languages are taught at a very early stage, when children are still learning and mastering their own mother tongue. However, assuming economic pressure will make young people study more languages may be the wrong assumption. Immigrants learn very fast the language they need to survive and earn a living. Languages seem more difficult when teenagers are confronted by conjugations at 14 or 15. Even though a future economic incentive may exist, it is never strong enough.
The UK experienced an upsurge in language learning in 2002, when 75% of all students took a language. Language skills seemed to be highly appreciated at the time. This promising trend was never consolidated and in 2013 only 49% of undergraduates took a language within their curriculum. Studying a language, usually English, is part of the core curriculum in all EU countries and language skills are highly in demand as the internal EU market consolidates.