Last night I attended a reception held at the British Council in London to celebrate International Education Week 2013, which is running this week from 18-24th November and which aims to encourage language study in the UK, as we as a country are seriously under-skilled when it comes to languages in comparison to our European counterparts. The reception brought together a wide variety of people (language teachers, policymakers, civil servants, businessmen and women, graduates such as myself, translators, representatives of language and culture organisations, etc.) who all fully believe in the importance of language skills in the global economy. As a particularly keen advocate of language learning, I found myself in good company with plenty of like-minded people.
There are various different events and elements of International Education Week 2013, and yesterday marked the launch of a new report commissioned by the British Council called ‘Languages for the Future: Which Languages the UK Needs and Why’, researched and written by Teresa Tinsley and Kathryn Board, which I thoroughly recommend you take a look at.
I found it fascinating reading and wanted to highlight a couple of passages that really interested me:
Many businesses do recruit young managers with language skills to enable them to work effectively in an international economy, but it is often easier for them to find young Europeans who have English and another language in addition to their first language. UK attitudes to language learning mean that the vast majority of young people in the UK do not have the kind of language skills to compete with their European peers for these jobs, and so there is a danger that our young people will increasingly lose out on employment opportunities and ultimately that there will be a negative impact on the UK’s economy.
1,000 words can be enough to feel autonomous, confident and secure in another country and brings some cultural understanding. ‘Fluent’ is an inhibitor, ‘functional’ is a liberator. It begins with a few words and phrases – and that small investment can grow into a lifetime of interest, employment and opportunity. – John Worne, Director of Strategy, British Council
Being monolingual also carries cultural risks. Speaking another language provides a window to a different culture and customs and, in turn, provides us with a mirror to our own.
David Graddol’s 2006 analysis of global language trends was a timely warning against complacency regarding the predominance of English worldwide. He predicted that the competitive advantage of English will ebb and that monolingual English speakers, unable to tap into the multilingual environments enjoyed by others, would face a bleak economic future.
There is concern about the low numbers of students taking language degree courses. As a front page article in the Observer recently noted, the 4,700 students who have been accepted in 2013 to start language degrees is dwarfed by almost ten times that number taking business studies.
I’m attending one further language-related event during International Education Week 2013. This Friday I’m visiting the British Academy for the launch of ThirdYearAbroad.com’s new Careers Platform, and at the event there’ll also be a panel discussion on ‘home-grown’ linguistic talent and the employability of year abroad graduates, which I’m hoping will reaffirm my belief that Modern Languages were an excellent choice for my degree course!