Language skills are ‘more vital than ever’ if the UK is to remain ‘outward looking’ and ‘open for business’ in the run up to Brexit, new British Council research has revealed.
In a survey of over 2,000 UK adults, the majority saw the ability to speak foreign languages as being essential if the UK is to successfully reach out to other countries (63 per cent) - and guarantee continued trade and investment (61 per cent) – in light of the result of the EU referendum.
Over two thirds of those surveyed (67 per cent) believed that as a country, we currently don’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 as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
There was overwhelming support for opportunities that allow young people to experience other languages and cultures – 69 per cent of respondents said that school exchanges and schemes like 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.
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% and 3.86% respectively. Previous research by the British Council and Education Development Trust has also found that teachers have ‘deep concerns’ about the current situation facing language learning in schools in England with pressure on curriculum time highlighted as a major challenge.
Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council, said: “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.”
The new research, carried out by Populus, was commissioned by the British Council – the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities - for International Education Week 2016. Language skills are vital to the UK’s future prosperity with the country’s current lack of these skills estimated to cost billions in missed business and trade opportunities every year1. According to the CBI, the foreign languages most in demand among British businesses are French (50 per cent), German (47 per cent) and Spanish (30 per cent).2
Other key findings in the British Council survey were:
69 per cent disagreed with the idea that learning a European language was now a waste of time following the Leave vote, 42 per cent of them strongly.
While only 12 per cent claimed to speak a foreign language to a high standard, 28 per cent said they were able to hold basic conversations. 41 per cent were embarrassed by their lack of foreign language skills.
75 per cent agreed that speaking more than one language is an important skill to have and 79 per cent said it would bring ‘greater employment opportunities.’
A quarter (26 per cent) said they now felt embarrassed about the fact the UK has chosen to leave the European Union when travelling abroad - this rose to over half (52 per cent) amongst 18-24 year olds.
The British Council champions International Education Week in the UK every year to showcase the benefits of international learning and cultural exchange. As part of the British Council’s ongoing #LearnALanguage campaign, this year’s focus is on the importance of languages – and encouraging more people to make time for language learning in their lives.
Tackling just a phrase a day could see people greatly improve their language skills with 1000 words recognised as an achievable number that would allow a speaker to hold a simple conversation in another language. For those keen to get started, the British Council has produced a series of language learning videos with practical hints and tips while young people can spend time abroad through schemes like Erasmus+ and Language Assistants. Schools can also get some ideas about how to make more time for language learning in a new guide produced for International Education Week 2016.