It is a widely acknowledged fact that we Brits are bloody savages, an imperialist nation who many years after ransacking the world continue to believe that to make ourselves understood simply requires shouting, unconnected hand gestures and a pith helmet. If in doubt yell the same thing louder and slower. If someone was screaming in Babylonian that they wanted a ham sandwich it is my distinct feeling that the volume wouldn’t be the barrier to understanding. So, that said why is this important?
There has been a consistent decrease in the uptake of languages at A level and GCSE and worse still there is now a statistical regional imbalance with an average of only 43% of children in the north-east taking a language at GCSE and below 30% in Middlesbrough and Blackpool. It is better in the capital as you might expect with that greater cultural mix but there remains a steady nationwide decline. Personally I was pretty terrible at languages but I did and do make the effort to try and make myself understood when abroad with a smattering of French, Spanish and Italian and I use the word smattering generously. I know my limitations but I never stop trying.
The rambunctious delighting in blissful ignorance of the Brit abroad has been a comedy staple for years. That joke worked only whilst we enjoyed a privileged position in the world as the hub for the banking and finance sector. The official language of the EU is English but already the French have started saying that should be revisited. When we’re on the outside looking in, suddenly our embarrassing absence of linguistic flair won’t seem quite so amusing. The British Council suggests that as much as £48 Billion is lost due to the lack of language skills. The report goes on to highlight the bloody obvious that UK businesses could improve their trade opportunities if they could communicate more effectively, Vicky Gough, the British Council’s school adviser says, ‘Not only are the personal benefits of learning a language huge, but the country’s current shortage of language skills is already estimated to be costing the economy tens of billions in missed trade and business opportunities every year,’
When we look at the emerging markets, when we look at our European counterparts who effortlessly harness a range of languages from the earliest age we are looking more and more like a bloated, entitled, porcine anachronism. If we as a nation wish to remain competitive and more importantly for you the individual, if you wish to remain employable we need to up our respective games.
German, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Indian dialects – having even a basic proficiency in any of these languages would open doors and give you the opportunity to access the world’s largest markets. That’s if we think of it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than the emerging reality that it will become an absolute necessary to remain competitive. So A levels, GCSE’s notwithstanding (the exam isn’t everything) everyone should be making it their business to learn a language whether it’s a learning app on your phone, an online course, wherever and however you choose to access it. Access it.