Language learning matters. Word of the British Chambers of Commerce.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has published a survey calling for more training in foreign languages to help boost British exports. The BCC calls for:

  • the National Curriculum to be revised so that studying a foreign language is compulsory until AS level
  • additional financial incentives such as tax credits for small and medium-sized businesses that make a significant investment in language training.
  • an international business exchange programme, perhaps modelled on the well-known academic Erasmus scheme, to allow employees to complete placements in companies abroad, and bring back their experience to their employer

For those, like me, not familiar with the education system in the non-Scottish bits of the UK, the AS level refers Advanced Subsidiary, the first year of the Advanced Level which is necessary for university entrance. Thank you, Wikipedia.

Here are some key points from the report:

  • language skills are vital to exporting
  • 61% of non-exporters that are likely to consider trading internationally consider a lack of language skills as a barrier to doing so
  • of those business owners that claim some language knowledge, very few can speak well enough to conduct deals in international markets
  • re-establishing foreign languages as core subjects within the UK national curriculum and in workplace training would mean that the next generation of business owners are “born global” with language skills
  • businesses with stronger international connections are more likely to export.

Commenting on the findings of the report, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

Exporting is good for Britain, so it is right that we should encourage current and future business owners to develop the necessary skills to trade overseas. We’re encouraged to see the percentage of firms exporting in our survey has increased from 22% in January 2011 to 32% in January 2012. Exports are equivalent to nearly 30% of UK GDP*, but more can be done to help businesses take the first step to exporting. Encouraging companies to boost foreign language skills with incentives like tax credits is just one way of making sure we continue to export best of British products and services around the world. A renewed focus on language skills at school, as well as helping companies forge new connections overseas, could help ensure that current and future business owners are pre-disposed to thinking internationally.

“Pre-disposed to thinking internationally”. That, I think, is the key point here. Language learning should open pupils’ and students’ eyes to the world outside their own national borders, and make exporting, or interacting with “foreigners”, seem both feasible and desirable.

It may be, however, that language courses in schools need to be up-dated if pupils are to understand their relevance. I haven’t sat in on any lessons, so I don’t know. Could anyone comment on this?

Educational outreach

If you’re interested in encouraging school pupils to continue their language learning, check out these Outreach posts for ideas and inspiration.

Public diplomacy — on which Prime Minister David Cameron is engaged right now on his trip to Asia — is another area where language skills are vital. Here are two articles, and a post from this blog, on the subject:

[Only] One in 40 UK diplomats fluent in language of country in which they work

Diplomats who are not fluent in the local tongue risk doing their country a disservice

Blowing the nation’s trumpet: languages and public diplomacy

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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