Author Profile Picture

Donavan Whyte

Rosetta Stone

Vice President, International Enterprise & Education

Read more from Donavan Whyte

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Continuing language learning in employment


Last month’s Language Show Live, the UK’s largest language event was the perfect setting for the Speak to the Future Symposium to consider the issue of languages for employability.

A series of discussions explored the many benefits of languages, employer expectations of language skills and the challenges in meeting them. Although language learning may start in school, everyone has the opportunity, throughout all stages of study and employment, to add to and increase their language skills.

It’s a training opportunity for employers that delivers clear bottom-line benefit. Last year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages cited an estimated loss to the UK economy of around £50 billion a year from lost contracts through a lack of language skills in the workforce.

Employers that embrace their responsibility to continue language education within their workforce benefit because:

Language learning helps develop critical business skills beyond speaking another language - it helps individuals develop culturally and build skills that include problem-solving, as discussed at Speak to the Future.

Businesses recognise there is a language skills gap - research firm Vanson Bourne surveyed executives responsible for language training in large enterprises in Britain and Germany and were told by 87% of them that more than one critical language is in use in their organisation; yet nearly two-thirds (63%) said improvement was needed in languages in their company.

Employers want employees with a global mind-set; with cultural understanding. They want open-minded, creative, well-rounded individuals with problem-solving capabilities and good communication skills. They want them to have the ability to take an alternative approach to tackling an issue if it’s needed; they’re interested in team players who can work flexibly with people from all backgrounds, who learn from others and who get the best out of teams they lead.

Language learning helps develop these skills in today’s and tomorrow’s employees. Yes, linguists gain a sought-after skill when they’re able to speak another language, but that isn’t the only thing they gain; it’s one part of a package of benefits that develop that person and gives them the attributes that employers are looking for. 

Political policy over languages in the school curriculum changes regularly. Employers encounter school leavers and graduates entering the workplace who have had varying exposure to structured language learning. In recent time there has been a decline in the number of modern language degrees offered by British universities, exacerbating the language skills gap in business. Employers that believe education stops after school or university, and don’t embrace their own role as facilitators of continuing employee development will lose out to their competitors that do.   

On the plus side, there has been an increase in the number of people incorporating a language into their other, main university subject on a modular basis. This builds a familiarity among learners of languages as an ongoing part of study in life. This approach to language learning can be continued in the workplace, through continual language development.  

The ‘bottom line’ business benefits of employees with languages can be seen through improved customer and supplier relations and increased sales opportunities, but language skills as enhancing employability go beyond that. They build social and people skills in learners, and help them develop an understanding of difference and of other cultures. All attributes that are essential to business in today’s global environment.  

Author Profile Picture
Donavan Whyte

Vice President, International Enterprise & Education

Read more from Donavan Whyte

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!