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News: UK’s poor language skills a threat to economic growth


A “national recovery programme” to improve the UK’s foreign language skills is urgently needed to ensure future economic growth, a group of MPs has warned.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages has launched a manifesto to “upgrade” the nation’s language skills to ensure the UK’s international reputation and economy doesn’t suffer.

It is therefore calling on all parties to make a commitment in their 2015 general election manifesto to “transform the reputation of UK citizens as poor linguists”.

The APPG estimates that the cost to the UK economy due to poor language skills is as much as £48bn a year. This isn’t limited to high-level senior positions either – in 2011, over 27% of admin and clerical jobs were left unfilled due to a lack of language skills, the group claimed.

“The next government will need to take clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills,” warned Baroness Coussins, chair of the APPG on Modern Languages.

“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.”

Other recommendations put forward by the APPG include offering employers a tax break if they invest in language training, and ensuring high quality language learning for all children throughout the UK from the age of seven, with the goal of all children gaining a language qualification by the end of secondary education.

According to the APPG, just 9% of English 15-year-olds are competent in their first foreign language beyond basic level, compared to 42% across 14 countries. In addition, the number of pupils taking A-Level French and German fell by 10% in a single year; and since 2000, 44 universities have closed their language degrees.

Meanwhile, findings from the recent CBI/Pearson Education & Skills survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of firms had identified a need for foreign language skills. However, another report by the British Council found that there is a “severe shortage” in the number of UK citizens that can speak the “10 most important languages” for the UK’s future.

Dr Adam Marshall, executive director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that better foreign language skills are crucial in boosting the UK’s export performance.

“For too long the UK has had a poor reputation for linguistic ability.To nurture the next generation of exporters, more young people need to learn a broader range of languages, and start learning languages from an earlier age.”

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Lucie Mitchell


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