As the British government finally begins to pick up its pace and joins the rest of Europe by stipulating that all high school students must take a language to EBacc/GCSE level, now is a good time to look at how we, as British, measure up to our European counterparts when it comes to language skills, and if we have the language skills to succeed in the export market.
The reality is the following: over 63% of Europeans speak a second language, and 25% can speak three languages. The European work force is flexible and willing to learn when it comes to providing the language skills needed to succeed in international markets. Conversely, in the United Kingdom, less than 20% of adults say they know a foreign language at a good or proficient level. Moreover, the British are frequently accused of being arrogant when it comes to language learning, preferring to stick to the old adage that ‘everyone speaks English’.
According to most recent research “Britain’s future economic prosperity and global standing is under threat because of an ‘alarming shortage’ in the number of people who can speak a foreign language”. With languages coming second only to IT in a list of desirable skills for job candidates, nearly half of employment recruiters say that speaking a second language to a good or proficient level gives a candidate the x-factor when applying for a job. In addition, a growing number of business schools seem to be taking the view that a degree of fluency in at least one other major language is essential for the next generation of corporate leaders: “In a global business environment, they’re also skills that can make the difference between a good performance and a truly great one.”
The government is not only making studying a language until 16 a requirement, but is also actively encouraging SMEs to embrace international markets, in order to grow their businesses through overseas trade. An example of this is the Exporting is Great campaign, which is currently all over our televisions, and whose launch coincides with Export Week in the UK. However last year’s exports were actually £6bn down on 2013, with one of the problems cited being “the poor language skills of Britons, which makes it tough for businesses to communicate with the customers they hope to sell to”. We can only wonder if these businesses really have sufficient staffing and resources with the linguistic capabilities to translate websites, contracts and tenders, and provide customer service and communication in multiple languages to match those easily provided by our friends in Europe.
If you would like to stay ahead of the game it’s never too late – get started by enrolling yourself and your staff in an evening language course with Cactus Language www.languagecoursesuk.co.uk. Check out our new website and new streamlined booking system.