The UK economy is losing out on around £48 billion a year in contracts due to a lack of language skills in the workforce, according to research commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) last year.
Citing this research, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Modern Languages (APPG) Chair, Baroness Coussins, said that the UK’s next government must take “clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills”.
“Otherwise our young people will continue to fall behind their European and global peers in education and employability; our export growth will be stunted; our international reputation will suffer and our security, defence and diplomacy needs will be compromised,” she said.
The APPG’s template manifesto includes goals to introduce language teaching from age 7; GCSE and A Level reform to ensure children have a “high quality language education” by the end of secondary education; and “a long-term commitment to transforming the reputation of UK citizens as poor linguists”.
“Otherwise our young people will continue to fall behind their global peers in education and employability; our international reputation will suffer”
A European Commission study of 14 countries placed England at the bottom of the table, finding less than a third of pupils studying languages in English schools do not reach the level of “a basic user who can use very simple language, with support” in their first foreign language.
French and German A Level entries fell by 10% last year, contributing to a decline in language take-up at higher education level. Since 2000, 44 universities have closed their language degrees.
The British Council is among more than 50 leading businesses, organisations and universities including HSBC, UBS and the British Academy that are backing the institution, underlining the strength of feeling surrounding the need to better equip the UK with language skills in both academic and academic circles.
“Whatever your politics, it’s great to see so many major UK organisations and leaders recognising that a grounding in a foreign language is a vital skill for every young life,” John Worne, Director of Strategy at the British Council.
“Even a few words can make all the difference for travel, work and leisure – and that’s really important for UK’s economy, trade and international standing,” he added.
The initiative comes after a survey carried out by CBI and Pearson last month showed that nearly two-thirds of UK businesses saw a need for foreign language skills, and the British Council’s recent Languages for the Future report identified a severe shortage in the number of UK people able to speak the 10 most important languages for the UK’s future.