With International Mother Language Day upon us - which promotes ‘linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism’, it’s a timely reminder that when it comes to learning a second language, British people are not really very good at it.
UK Nil point
A recent survey revealed that 62% of the population speaks English only, with 38% of Britons speaking at least one foreign language, 18% speak two and only 6% of the population speak three or more.*
With a shortage of fluent language speakers, the benefits of being able to communicate with overseas clients, suppliers and buyers are being lost to the tune of around £50bn. With businesses relying more heavily on translators, UK companies are really missing a trick by not employing someone who is multilingual. By having someone who offers this skillset means you are able to build closer relationships, opportunities for expansion, and receive new business recommendations because you have the right expertise in place.
Languages speak volumes
Unfortunately, learning a foreign language is not a popular choice in Britain. Therefore turning around this huge skills gap is not going to happen overnight. Most children start studying at the age of 11, but by the age of 14, have virtually given up.* The greatest advantage of continuing an interest in language skills means not only are you 'in demand' in the current jobs market, but you could have a career working for an international firm or a company (across a variety of sectors), with international customers or contacts.
On a personal level, we have found that employing staff who speak a number of languages (including French, Spanish, Korean, Punjabi and Polish) to be of huge benefit to our clients as business can be done much faster, and more efficiently, and we have welcomed numerous business opportunities because we can facilitate many more international enquiries.
The British government is looking at ways to improve language learning at school. A number of new measures including tax breaks to companies who invest in training courses have been suggested.
We also keenly await the outcome from Brexit. Continuing to allow EU workers to come to the UK will be an enormous relief to UK businesses who rely on foreign workers to help them expand and flourish.
It's good to talk….French, Spanish, Italian etc
So let us not say 'Adios' to great business opportunities, let's open the door to exciting international opportunities starting with a simple 'Bonjour' or 'Guten Tag'. It is important to remember that you do not have to be fluent in a foreign language, but a few words can go along way! The effort will be appreciated.
If this article has inspired you to learn a different language, the BBC offers free courses, which could be a great starting point.
* Statistics taken from the British Council (Exol Nexus) website