Language skills “more vital than ever” for UK

Foreign-language skills are “more vital than ever” for the UK, advises the British Council, as the country prepares to leave the European Union.

The government is expected to trigger Article 50 in March 2017, which will begin a negotiation process of up to two years to determine the terms of Brexit. One thing that is certain, though, is that foreign-language skills will be needed, says the British Council.

A new survey by the council found that of over 2,000 UK adults, two thirds (63 per cent) said that the ability to speak foreign languages will be “essential”, if the UK is to succeed in reaching out to other countries and guarantee continued trade and investment (61 per cent).

Indeed, the property industry, for example, is already enjoying a significant rise in foreign interest in real estate opportunities from overseas, particularly Chinese, investors. While many investors may speak English, though, some may not – and for close business relationships to develop, the gesture of learning a client’s language can go a long way.

However, over two thirds (67 per cent) of those surveyed by the British Council believe that the UK currently doesn’t encourage enough young people in the UK to learn other languages, with a similar number (63 per cent) stating that schools need to make more time than ever before for language learning in the run-up to Brexit.

Indeed, language uptake in schools remains low when compared to other subjects – this year, the number of pupils taking a languages GCSE was less than half the number of those taking one in maths, while overall language entries dropped at both GCSE and A-level – by 5.57 per cent and 3.86 per cent respectively.

There was strong support for opportunities that allow young people to experience other languages and cultures – 69 per cent of respondents said that school exchanges and schemes such as Erasmus+ should remain open. This rose to 74 per cent amongst 18-24 year olds, highlighting the value that young people themselves place on international experience.

Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council, says: “As the UK comes to reposition itself on the world stage, language skills matter now more than ever. And with the country already facing a languages shortfall, we must do everything we can to encourage more people to acquire these vital skills. The reality is that speaking another language not only boosts job prospects but also allows you to connect with another culture. If the UK is to remain globally competitive as we prepare to leave the EU, language learning must become a national priority.”

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