In a report entitled Breaking the Language Barrier, published by Reform Scotland in October 2018, it is noted that the UK Government estimates poor language skills cost the economy £48 billion annually, equivalent to 3.5% of GDP. While Anglophone countries often dismiss other languages, Scotland is demonstrating an appetite to turn the tide.
The flagship for change is the Scottish Government’s 1+2 policy, launched in 2012, providing children with the opportunity to learn a first additional language from primary one and a second from primary five. Seven years later, the 1+2 generation is now starting secondary school.
There are already encouraging signs at Higher level, where, according to recent research by Dr Hannah Doughty on trends over a seven-year period, languages as a whole enjoy a higher percentage uptake than biology or physics.
Further encouragement comes from Holyrood. Ivan McKee, the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, recently stated that: “It is essential we inspire young people to learn languages, to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to take full advantage of opportunities in our fast-changing world.”
Crucial here is that McKee mentions “skills”. Languages are not simply about the ability to move between tongues, mechanically expressing information and ideas. Arguably the greatest benefit from the study of languages lies not in their mastery, but in other skills acquired on the journey.