The Dwindle in Foreign Language -(UK)
Beginning in the 1990s, a decline in foreign languages could be seen in the academic and work environment in the UK. This was accelerated after 2004 when a reform to the national curriculum made language learning at Key Stage 4 (KS4) or GCSE level optional. In response, fewer students took on foreign language courses and research shows a steep decline in attendance in the five years following 2004.
Various studies have found that the UK has the worst language skills in all of Europe. In the CBI’s 2010 survey of employer satisfaction with employee skills, foreign language ability ranked last out of twelve skills areas. Fluency isn’t even required for most positions, 2/3 of employers only require “conversational ability”. It appears that the students least likely to engage in learning another language, are generally less social and have fewer economic opportunities, making their non-lingual skills just one of the problems for future employment. The study finds that three and a half years after graduation, more languages graduates are employed than their peers who studied Law, Architecture, Business or Computer Science, and they are earning higher average wages.
A primary problem seems to be that the ability to speak another language has not been valued in the workplace. Though the UK is a major trading power and financial center, the 2008 worldwide economic downturn has particularly affected the country. Unemployment in the UK is currently at 8.4 percent. Even among younger job-seekers, there is a belief that language skills have little importance in the labour market. This needs to change to increase the amount of people expanding their language skills. Some of the people uninterested in learning another language say, “Why do the English need to speak a foreign language when all foreigners speak English?“
The UK exports disproportionately to English-speaking countries because of an overall inability to communicate with foreign countries. While about 320 million people speak English, about 885 million speak Mandarin-Chinese, over 450 million speak Spanish, more than 310 million speak Arabic, 189 million speak Bengal, 182 million Standard Hindi. Research commissioned by the EU finds that out of 29 European countries, 11 percent had lost a contract as a result of lack of language skills. If this deficit could be filled, it is believed that exports could increase by 8 percent. That kind of increase would be extremely welcome in the UK’s current state of economic depression.
“Language skills are increasingly important in a globalised economy. Staff who can communicate at least conversationally in another language, particularly where this is coupled with an understanding of overseas business culture, it can be a great asset. Linguistic proficiency helps firms to consolidate their relationships with existing overseas trading partners and develop contacts in new markets.”
(The Confederation of British Industry).