UK Foreign Language Skills Labelled “Alarming”

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UK Foreign Language Skills Labelled “Alarming”

It is no secret that people in the United Kingdom are not known for their foreign language skills. However, a recent report by the British Council stated that the shortage of people that speak foreign languages is “alarming.”

In an article on the BBC website, reporter Judith Burns covers new research that has once again highlighted the poor language skills of the British.

She says that according to a study conducted by the British Council, languages should be regarded just as highly in schools are sciences and maths are and adults should commit themselves to learning a new language.

Jon Worne, who works for the British Council, stated that if these measurements are not taken, the UK might miss out on economic and cultural opportunities.

Improving the language skills of the British is not as straightforward as it looks: Burns says not all languages are regarded equally important by the British Council. The organisation created a list of the ten most important languages for the UK, which is topped by Spanish (see below).

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A number of the languages, such as French and German, are already being taught at schools, Worne says, but the UK should not overlook the importance of exotic language such as Arabic and Chinese.

Burns says  that in order to create the top 10, the British Council made an analysis of political, educational and cultural factors. She also reveals that a YouGov poll with over 4,000 adult participants showed that three quarters of the UK population is unable to have a conversation in any of these ten languages.

The foreign language with the most UK speakers is French: fifteen per cent of the population in the UK says they can have a conversation in this language. According to Burns, however, the number for a lot of the other languages on the list are much lower – Portuguese and Russian, for example, are only spoken by less than one per cent of all UK citizens.

Head of education at the football Premier League, Martyn Heather, endorsed the study, Burns says. Heather stated that foreign languages can open a lot of doors. This is also true for football players, who have more opportunities to play for a club in another country when their foreign language skills are up to par. He says those who know their languages and show cultural awareness are more likely to successfully take on opportunities abroad.

In the foreword of the study, Worne wrote that people should not strive to become fluent in a language, but that functional skill is far more important. Knowing the right words and phrases on lead people and businesses to many different opportunities.

Burns states that in the report, the four separate governments of the UK are encouraged to work together when it comes to language teaching. The researchers also believed the UK must make use of the language skills of the minorities in the country and that companies should invest money in languages that will benefit their business.  

:: Read the full report here > Languages for the Future

Katia Reed
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