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Mandarin, Arabic sought after by UK businesses

Foreign languages are in high demand among UK businesses, research has shown, with a particular increase in demand for employees with language skills that give businesses access to fast growing export markets, including Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic.

31% of employers surveyed said Mandarin would be useful to them. Photo: Bridget Coila.

"A company with employees who can communicate in the language of clients, customers and suppliers, has a big advantage in the fast-growing markets across the globe"

Only 35% of respondents to the business lobbying organisation CBI and education giant Pearson‘s annual educational and skills survey said they see no need for foreign language skills, while 41% said that knowledge of a foreign language would be beneficial to their company and 28% that it would help to build overseas contacts.

“With China and Latin America seeing solid growth, ambitious firms want the language skills that can smooth the path into new markets”

“With the UK’s push to rebalance to a trade and investment-led economy, better foreign language skills could be a major instrument in supporting this,” a CBI spokesperson said.

Demand for Mandarin continues to climb, with 31% of employers surveyed saying it would be useful to their business, compared to 28% last year and 23% in 2011, while Cantonese has remained steady at 16%.

Meanwhile, almost a quarter of employers said they wanted employees with Arabic skills, compared to last year’s 16%, and demand for Spanish soared from 34% to 44% after two years of decline.

European languages remain highly sought after, with around half of the survey’s 291 respondents saying they would be useful to their businesses.

“With the EU still our largest export market, it’s no surprise to see German, French and Spanish language skills so highly prized by companies,” CBI’s Deputy Director-General, Katja Hall, said. “But with China and Latin America seeing solid growth, ambitious firms want the language skills that can smooth the path into new markets.”

Russian and Japanese, which also saw a decline in interest last year, have rebounded to 18% and 15%, up from 13% and 8% respectively.

Mark Anderson, Managing Director of Pearson UK, commented: “As a global company we understand that a company with employees who can communicate with some proficiency in the language of clients, customers and suppliers, has a big advantage in the fast-growing markets across the globe.”

CBI’s Hall added that take-up of foreign languages in UK schools is a “worry”.

“The jury remains out as to whether recent government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning,” she said. “Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language.”

The survey will be published in full next month.

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