The poor language skills of the British do not only mean individual Britons lose out on jobs or other opportunities: it also costs the government a significant amount of money every year!
According to Lucy Pawle in an article on the website of the Guardian, research by Professor James Foreman-Peck reveals that the UK economy annually loses about £48 billion because the British do not speak foreign languages and believe that everyone else speaks English.
In his study, that was conducted for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills of the University of Cardiff, Foreman-Peck states that the lack of foreign language skills can be seen as a “tax on growth” for small and medium-sized businesses that export their products abroad, as these companies do not have the monetary means to call in language specialists.
Moreover, he believes it also discourages companies that are not yet exporting to do so.
Bernadette Holmes, who is a researcher at the British Academy’s Born Global Initiative, says foreign languages are vital for every single British industry. Knowledge about other languages than English are needed to ensure products fits a certain market, for example, or to establish good relationships with foreign countries and businesses. Moreover, Holmes believes that companies that have no employees that are proficient in of the country they are targeting might mean certain rules are misinterpreted, which can have legal consequences.
Accoring to Pawle, Foreman-Peck’s research is backed by a survey held by the British Chambers of Commerce, in which it was revealed that 62% of all companies that are not exporting their products abroad believe that the foreign languages involved in the process prevent them from exporting.
Furthermore, the survey showed that 70% of all exporting companies do not have any knowledge of the language spoken in the countries they ship their products to.
Nick Brown, who is the CEO of Nikwax, a UK company that produces cleaning and waterproofing products, says that English is sufficient if companies wish to buy foreign products, but that companies that want to sell their own products abroad really need foreign language skills to be successful. This is why Brown made sure all of this export and sales employees are linguists, but he still admits he missed out on a number of opportunities because of language. He for example believes that is company is behind in China, as he does not have a Chinese linguist.
Another survey, held by the Confederation of British Industry, states that 30% of all UK companies believe they have no need for foreign language skills, Pawle says. However, according to Foreman-Peck, the difficulties faced by a company depend on their exporting strategy. After all, companies that export a lot are more likely to encounter problems than those that only export a small amount of products.
Pawle believes companies should be aware of the importance of foreign language skills by now, but se also says that awareness itself is not going to solve the problem. According to Holmes, finding bilingual employees in the UK is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
In fact, the abovementioned survey by the Confederation of British Industry revealed that only 2% of British businesses were “very satisfied” with the UK graduates’ foreign language skills. As a result, Pawle says, enterprises turn to other countries to find employees of their liking, which does not help the current employment prospects in the UK. Learning a foreign language might thus greatly increase your chances on today’s employment market!