In The Press
BNE Chairman in The Times - Britain’s lack of foreign language speakers is costing the economy
30 January 2012
By Oliver Moody
Britain’s lack of foreign language speakers costs the economy up to £17 billion a year, a report suggests.
The country is losing its standing in the world because many people cannot communicate adequately outside their own language, according to research by the Education and Employers Taskforce for Collins Language.
It adds that more than a quarter of vacancies are unfilled because of candidates’ inability to handle languages, and that most employers say they are “unhappy” with their new recruits for the same reason.
Britain’s growth could be hamstrung by a “national languages deficit”, the study says, as “there is a direct relationship between national language skills and international trade” and Britain has the worst language skills in Europe.
Even a small improvement could boost the balance of trade. If Britain’s linguistic standards were up to the international average, the research says, exports could increase by 8 per cent, raising the country’s GDP by between £7.3 billion and £17 billion. The report describes this skills shortage as a “tax on trade”.
The problem is particularly acute among young people. Nearly two thirds of schoolchildren are leaving education without a foreign language GCSE, and uptake of French GCSEs has halved since 2001.
These findings come days after Association of Graduate Recruiters published new figures showing that one in three companies left graduate vacancies unfilled last year, in many cases because “applicants’ skill levels often did not meet their requirements”.
Roland Rudd, the chairman of the think tank Business for New Europe, writes that the urgency of the crisis is not getting through to the young. “It is inhibiting our businesses, our national prosperity and even our international standing,” he wrote in the report.
“Quite simply, British businesses will not remain competitive unless we can communicate effectively and interact with customers and partners around the world.”
Luciana Berger, the Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who sits on the parliamentary group for modern languages, said the curriculum was not fit for the purposes of the 21st century.”Instead, out-of-touch education secretary Michael Gove is prioritising ancient languages - Latin and Greek - that no one speaks,” she said.
“It’s vital that our schools prepare children for the challenges they will face as an adult and helps them to meet the demands of a competitive global jobs market. Learning a foreign language is crucial to that.”
Part of the problem is an “information gap” between the skills school leavers think they need and the skills the workplace demands. More than half of the employers questioned in the survey said they were “not satisfied” with graduates’ command of foreign languages, and many complained of poor international cultural understanding.
The report also underlined the personal advantages of competence in a foreign language. Language graduates are more likely to find work soon after leaving university than their peers who studied subjects such as law, business and computer science.
Linguists also start higher up the pay curve, earning an average of £26,823 per annum three and a half years after graduating, more than graduates in engineering, physics, and chemistry.
The Department for Education insists that the English Baccalaureate, which measures schools by their performance in core GCSE subjects including a foreign language, will stop the fall in numbers.
A spokesman for the department said: “Ministers are clear it’s a national scandal that the numbers taking foreign language GCSEs have been falling so rapidly in recent years. The English Baccalaureate has already started to reverse the long-term decline.
“We’re overhauling the language curriculum in primary and secondary schools and, in the long term, Michael Gove has said language teaching should be the norm from five years old.”