Latest News

A selection of language-related news. Does not claim to be comprehensive or represent the views of SCILT.


Investment in Languages Education Could Return Double for UK Economy

22 February 2022 (RAND Corporation)

A new study from the University of Cambridge and the not-for-profit research institute RAND Europe, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, shows that investing in languages education in the UK will return more than the investment cost, even under conservative assumptions.

By quantifying the wider economic benefits to the UK economy of extending languages education in schools, researchers found that the benefit-to-cost ratios for increasing Arabic, Mandarin, French or Spanish education are estimated to be at least 2:1, meaning that spending £1 could return about £2.

Researchers used a macroeconomic model to examine UK economic performance between now and 2050 if more pupils aged between 11 and 16 — Key Stage 3 (KS3) and Key Stage 4 (KS4) — learned to speak one of four different languages so they could later use it effectively in business. The modelling was based on the Government's successful Mandarin Excellence Programme, in which extra hours are devoted to language learning without affecting other EBacc subjects and lessons are fast-paced and engaging.


Quitting EU Erasmus scheme would 'blow a hole' in UK economy

8 March 2020 (The Guardian)

Quitting the EU’s Erasmus student exchange programme would “blow a hole” in the UK’s economy, taking away income of £243m a year and depriving 17,000 British young people of valuable work experience, according to a group of education and business leaders.

The group, including further education colleges and universities, is calling for the British government to make clear that continued Erasmus membership is a high priority in its talks with the EU.

Britain’s membership of the EU-wide exchange scheme known as Erasmus+ is to expire at the end of this year, alongside membership of the EU. The government’s negotiating outline offered scant hope of continued full membership, saying only that it “will consider options for participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided the terms are in the UK’s interests”.

Universities UK International (UUKI), the umbrella group representing higher education providers, said membership of Erasmus gave a bonus to the British economy worth £243m a year, after subtracting membership costs from the £420m generated by EU students visiting the UK under the programme.


Agenda: It's time to take an interest in cool Germania

11 August 2018 (The Herald)

Sometimes it seems there’s a perception that Germany is somehow ... well, boring. Apparently news stories about Germany, even in the Herald, get far fewer views than average ones. But why should Germany be such a journalistic turn-off for readers?

[...] Wherever one stands on Brexit, leaving the EU means that Germany is going to become more important to the UK and to Scotland, not less. Yet fewer and fewer people are learning German. (Which is odd, since, contrary to the widespread myth, it’s a relatively easy language to learn.)


Americans are losing out because so few speak a second language

6 August 2018 (San Francisco Chronicle)

The United States may be the single most powerful nation in the world militarily, and remains a global economic giant, but we have seen repeatedly that our influence is limited. In part, we are constrained by our inadequate understanding of other nations and peoples, and by our inability to communicate effectively with them.

It is therefore disturbing, and evidence of a dangerous myopia, that we continue to neglect training and education in languages other than English.

In 1979, I was a member of the President’s Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies, which found that “Americans’ incompetence in foreign languages is nothing short of scandalous.” Last year, nearly 40 years later, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a similar report, “America’s Languages,” and its findings were eerily similar: “[T]he dominance of English, to the exclusion of other languages, has also had adverse and often unforeseen consequences at home and abroad — in business and diplomacy, in civic life, and in the exchange of ideas.”

Much has changed in the decades between these two reports, including the continuing spread of English globally. Today, English is an official language of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Criminal Court, and NATO, as well as the unofficial language of international business.

What has not changed, however, is that English alone — an education in English to the exclusion of other languages — remains insufficient to meeting our needs in a global world.

In times of great national security challenges, such as those we face today, as well as in times of great opportunity, such as the opening of new international markets, we find ourselves scrambling for people who can speak, write, and think in languages other than English. In those moments, we search high and low for people who can communicate in Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Pashto — and especially for people who understand the idioms and nuances that characterize true communication in any culture.

Because it is difficult to find such people immediately, we are at a disadvantage. Language acquisition is a marathon, not a sprint. By the time we educate and train the experts we need to help us address a particular language gap, we are often too late. The crisis has shifted. Others have captured the new market.

As a matter of public policy, this is a terribly inefficient way to operate.


Language skills – a crucial asset in a global economy

6 August 2018 (Education Scotland)

More companies are trading with international markets and this has led to growth in global supply chains. Because of this, there is greater demand for workers who have modern language skills, experience of the international business environment and are prepared to work globally.


Mandarin will give school leavers career advantage

11 April 2018 (UCL/CISS)

More than three in four British business leaders believe speaking Mandarin will give school leavers a career advantage over their counterparts, according to a survey published today.

Amongst over 1,000 senior business decision makers questioned by YouGov for the UCL Institute of Education-delivered Mandarin Excellence Programme, more than three quarters of respondents said that speaking a high level of Mandarin would be beneficial to school pupils in their future careers. 

On average, 28 per cent thought that the advantage would be ‘significant’ – with this rising to 31 per cent amongst those working for companies with an annual turnover of £10 million or more.  

While 69 per cent of those surveyed felt that Mandarin Chinese skills, particularly speaking, would be important for British business and the economy in future, 66 per cent said that it was currently difficult to recruit fluent speakers from within the UK workforce. When asked about language learning more widely, 82 per cent agreed that language teaching in schools “should reflect important potential growth markets for British trade and business”.

You can read the full article on the UCL website.

Opening Doors in Scotland

There is no doubt that languages, including Mandarin, open doors to a range of opportunities. For example, the pupil immersion course which offers young people the opportunity to attend a language and culture immersion course in China. For more details please see the CISS website.

CISS also offers 6th year school leavers the opportunity to apply for the Tianjin Scholarship. To find out more about this exciting chance to learn mandarin in Tianjin for a year, please see our website where you can read blogs from our present Scholars.

There are also activities provided by CISS through our partners, for example Scottish Opera and Edinburgh Zoo. Please visit the CISS website for more details or get in touch with


Speaking more than one language can boost economic growth

6 February 2018 (World Economic Forum)

Multilingualism is good for the economy, researchers have found. Countries that actively nurture different languages reap a range of rewards, from more successful exports to a more innovative workforce.

Language skills for industry

8 January 2018 (Parliament Live)

Watch Baroness Coussins speech in Lords debate on need for MFL skills in the UK Government's Industrial Strategy.


Future-proof grads: new study pinpoints arts, humanities and social science graduates’ skills

27 November 2017 (British Academy)

The British Academy has published the first ever evidence of the skills that the 1.25m students who study arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) develop through their degrees. AHSS graduates make up 55% of all university students, but to date it has been unclear which skills they develop and where they work after university.

Researchers found that the skills in demand from employers were the same as those developed by studying the arts, humanities and social sciences:

  • communication and collaboration;
  • research and analysis;
  • independence and adaptability.

With the type of jobs likely to change in the future, the research showed that flexible and adaptable graduates, many of whom have AHSS degrees, were highly valued by employers, even when their degree was unrelated to the business.


Related Links

Download The Right Skills: Celebrating Skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) (British Academy, 2017)

Key messages on language skills:

  • Skills of critical analysis, problem solving, negotiation and communication, speaking other languages and understanding other cultures have intrinsic value with huge benefits for society, contributing to social cohesion at home and the UK’s prosperity and security abroad.
  • We live in an increasingly diverse, multicultural society. In an increasingly global labour market and with more mobility in the workforce, the world is more interconnected than ever. Language skills, intercultural understanding, global awareness and an international mind set will be crucial for the future of the UK economy, society and for UK security and diplomacy.
  • AHSS graduates are already equipped with many of the skills required to thrive in a global context. These skills are not just limited to language and area studies graduates, but are found in many AHSS disciplines, including for example in history and geography, along with the broader skills of communication, diplomacy, negotiation and empathy which are shared across AHSS disciplines.
  • British Academy recommends that Government, universities and learned societies work together to realise the potential and added value of AHSS as a context in which language, digital and data skills can be developed to ensure that the UK has the skills needed for productivity and growth in the 21st century

Five languages Brexit Britons should learn

24 November 2017 (Financial Times)

On trips to the Netherlands, I always ponder how long it would take me, a competent Afrikaans speaker, to learn Dutch. Not long, I think, but it would probably be fruitless. English is widely and fluently spoken in the Netherlands; I imagine my initial halting Dutch would be met with amusement.

So I was surprised to see that a recent British Council report of the top 10 languages young Britons should learn put Dutch in seventh place. The top-10 table was based on a study of the UK’s export and tourism markets, emerging high-growth economies, diplomatic and security priorities and job and educational opportunities.


The cost of Britons’ failure to learn foreign languages (Letters)

6 November 2017 (Guardian)

Native English speakers can’t simply rely on the rest of the world’s desire to learn their language, say Gabrielle Hogan-Brun and Jennifer Jenkins, while Jane Sjögren quotes Nelson Mandela on the importance of linguistic skills and Trevor Stevens says learning a foreign language should be compulsory at GCSE


Posted in: Economy

The need for a national languages policy and a more holistic approach towards languages in the UK

21 October 2017 (MEITS)

In this podcast Wendy Ayres-Bennett from the University of Cambridge talks to Baroness Jean Coussins, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, about the need for a national languages policy and a more holistic approach towards languages in the UK.


Global Britain needs more linguists if we are to succeed after Brexit

12 October 2017 (The Telegraph)

Ours is a trading nation, connected to countries in every continent by shared history, shared values and, on occasion, shared language.

We are a country that thrives in making its way in the world. Once we leave the European Union we will, once again, be free to forge mutually beneficial relationships with peoples all over the globe.

Drawing on the genius of the great economists of our Union’s history, this Kingdom will once again be at the forefront of global free trade. Once again, it will fall to Britain and her close allies to make the Smith, Mill and Ricardo’s moral and economic case for markets, free trade and comparative advantage.

Key to our success in this endeavour is the preparedness of the next generation to compete and sell their wares in a global economy. In an ever more technical world, it is important that pupils leave school with the knowledge that will best prepare them for the demands of life in 21st century Britain.


Slump in foreign language students sparks fear for UK competitiveness

5 August 2017 (The Herald)

FRESH concerns have been raised that not enough youngsters are learning foreign languages, as figures show a slump in applications to study the subject at university.

The numbers of applications for degree courses linked to European languages have fallen by almost a quarter in the past five years, while the numbers for other language courses have dropped by almost a fifth, according to an analysis by the Press Association. At the same time, there has been a decline in the numbers studying languages traditionally offered by schools, such as French and German, to GCSE and A-level.

The analysis indicates Spanish has grown in popularity in recent times along with other courses, such as Arabic and Chinese.

The British Council, which specialises in international cultural relations, warned that if the UK is to remain globally competitive in the wake of Brexit it needs more young people to be learning languages.


Why just speaking English isn’t going to cut it anymore

15 June 2017 (The Conversation)

Britain is facing an uncertain future and an uneasy relationship with Europe after Brexit and the latest general election. Among other things, a key determiner of the success of Brexit will be the UK’s ability to conduct negotiations without language barriers. But the country’s woeful inability to learn languages, and the decline in foreign language learning among school and university students across Britain, does not bode well.

Of course, Welsh, Gaelic, Irish and Cornish are already spoken in some parts of the UK. And while it’s great to see many of these minority languages experiencing something of a revival over recent years, when it comes to life after Brexit it’s languages from further afield that will likely be most useful to Brits.

Many people in the UK may well ask “why we need languages” when “everyone in Europe speaks English anyway”. Indeed, all Brexit negotiations will be conducted in English. But given that the UK’s lack of foreign language skill is estimated to cost the nation up to £48 billion a year, this isn’t something that can just be ignored. Especially considering this figure is unlikely to decrease in post-Brexit Britain.


All Junior Cert pupils to study a foreign language under new plan

19 April 2017 (News Talk)

(Applies to Ireland) All pupils will study a foreign language for their Junior Cert by 2021 under ambitious new plans being announced by the Education Minister.

The strategy also aims to increase the number of Leaving Cert students studying a foreign language by 10%.

Chinese will be introduced as a Leaving Cert subject for the first time, while so-called 'heritage languages' such as Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese will get a proper curriculum.

Speaking to Pat Kenny, Minister Richard Bruton explained: "We are going to have to, post-Brexit, realise that one of the common weaknesses of English speaking countries - that we disregard foreign languages - has to be addressed in Ireland.

"We need now to trade in the growth areas - and many of those speak Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin. Those are the languages that we need to learn to continue to trade successfully."

On the subject of Eastern European languages, he observed: "We now have many Lithuanians and Polish here, and we can develop those languages.

"We also need to use programmes like Erasmus - we want to increase our participation there by 50%. Clearly it has to become more immersed in the language.

"At the moment if you look at Leaving Cert and Junior Cert, French dominates. French is a lovely language, but we need to recognise that we need to diversify into other languages."


Prepare British children for life after Brexit – teach them another language

10 April 2017 (The Conversation)

The formal negotiations to untangle the UK from the intricacies of the European Union are now well underway. And it is clear that looking forward, Britain’s new relationship with the EU will necessitate conducting trade and political communications in a new dynamic – one which is unlikely to be done in the medium of English.

When the UK leaves the EU there will be no member state remaining where English is the lead official language. “Ah”, you say, “what about Ireland, they speak English there”. Yes they do, but in Ireland, Irish Gaelic is considered the first official language.

So to trade with the EU, the UK will need high-level negotiators fluent in German, French and Spanish, which it currently does not have.

Additionally, leaving the EU will result in a restriction of immigrants from across EU member states. The need for visas will drastically reduce the number of workers who can come to the UK to fill jobs British people are either unwilling or unable to do.

And recognising this gap, the Foreign and Common Wealth office and the Ministry of Defence have opened in-house training centres to provide lessons in up to 80 different languages for their staff.


Why Britain's monolingualism could be costly for the nation

5 April 2017 (World Economic Forum)

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it has a huge number of considerations to ensure its economy prospers. One, which is perhaps overlooked, is Britain’s language policy and how important this is as an economic resource. A strategic language policy and the cultivation of language experts in post-Brexit Britain are essential if it wants to connect with fresh markets overseas.

This has long been a feature of international diplomacy – stretching back long before globalisation as we know it. All the big powers of the Old World depended on understanding other people’s languages to trade across cultures. A “modern” solution was found in Babylonia, an ancient commercial metropolitan hub in the Near East, where a polyglot community of traders came together from the Mediterranean, Persia and Turkey, and beyond.

There are accounts of King Hammurabi deftly exploiting his city’s growing cultural mix as a resource in the 1790s BC. He used bilingual foreign traders as cross-cultural brokers. With their language skills, they played a key role in facilitating long-range trade with distant markets.

One of the biggest challenges facing the UK economy now is a skills shortage. Although funding is promised to support technical skills training, UK business also requires professionals with language skills to achieve sales in fresh markets. These experts will need to speak the languages of trading partners and understand the cultures of new overseas contacts to negotiate and seal deals. Investment in this crucial soft skill is needed.


British business will need its foreign language speakers

22 March 2017 (FT)

Theresa May will trigger Article 50 on March 29, but much of UK business has no idea what Brexit will mean for them. During discussions in the past few weeks, I have heard of financial services companies applying for licences in EU countries in case they need to move some of their operations there. But most businesses are watching and waiting to assess what comes out of the negotiations.

There is one thing many companies are sure of: they cannot manage without their EU staff. It is not just the numbers of EU nationals working in many industries. Some companies are also desperate to hold on to the languages those citizens speak.


From busuu to Babble, language-learning startups adapt to thrive

7 March 2017 (The Guardian)

Language learning is big business. Each year, students coming to study English in the UK contribute £2bn to the economy. It’s also a market suited to the flexibility of mobile learning and, sure enough, language learning apps are seeking to fill the gaps – more than 350 are listed on the Apple App Store alone.

But language tech isn’t an easy space in which to succeed. Rapid changes in technology have meant that its startups have had to adapt to survive, as Bernhard Niesner, co-founder of busuu, can attest.

Originally from Austria, Niesner had always loved languages: he learned Spanish and travelled in Latin America before undertaking an MBA at the IE Business School in Madrid. There he met Adrian Hilti, originally from Switzerland. It was 2008, Facebook was expanding rapidly, and the two wondered if they could combine technology and learning a language with social media.

So busuu, named after a Cameroonian language, was born, teaching users with interactive courses coupled with a social network of native speakers.


Lazy monolinguals will hurt your business: The compelling case for bringing language learning into the workplace

27 February 2017 (CityA.M.)

The UK’S future relationship with Europe is far from certain. With many of Brexit’s economic consequences still panning out, it is a good time to reflect on how the UK can maintain a global trading edge after its exit from the EU.

In this respect, post-Brexit UK companies would do well to embrace foreign languages as a matter of urgency in order to cement the creation of effective cultural and business relationships with prospective EU and non-EU trading partners.

While English is undoubtedly one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and largely used as the lingua franca in corporate diplomacy, I believe that a lack of intercultural and language competence on the UK’s part could jeopardise the future global standing and prosperity of its businesses.

As former German Chancellor Willy Brandt put it over 40 years ago: “if I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen”. Indeed, multilingual businesses are proven to benefit from richer interactions between partners, employees, suppliers and customers as well as increased sales and return on investment. It also offers a significant edge on the competition by enabling a wider customer and client base.


Why multilingualism is good for economic growth

3 February 2017 (The Conversation)

'If your strategy is to trade only with people that speak English that’s going to be a poor strategy.'

Top US economist Larry Summers recently tweeted this in relation to America’s focus on its so-called special relationship with the UK. And he’s right. The economic impact on the US – or any other country – that closes off its trade barriers with countries that are different to it would be enormous.

Language matters on a large-scale national level and at the level of smaller businesses.


Why making languages non-compulsory at GCSE is a step backwards

17 January 2017 (The Telegraph)

I am nervous as I take my seat in front of the Head of Languages; it is GCSE choices evening and the school gym has been transformed, criss-crossed by rows of tables and chairs with eager parents and their offspring gathered around harried-looking teachers.

“I'd like to do Triple Language,” I say, “French, Spanish and Italian.”

She regards me over the top of her sheet full of names, in front of her.

“Oh no, I don't think so. You could do Spanish, maybe, but you'll find three too difficult.”

Seven years later and I am on the brink of successfully completing my undergraduate degree in, you guessed it, languages. And whilst I look back on that exchange now with a certain degree of victorious pride, I still can't help but wonder what prompted her to turn a perfectly capable student away from her course.

In this performance-obsessed climate where a pupil's grades are often put before their education, it is unsurprising that even some of the best teachers find themselves advising students against courses which are deemed too challenging. But we must do away with the notion that languages are an elite subject if we are to improve the dire situation in which we now find ourselves.


In or out of the EU, UK businesses can’t afford to reject language learning

6 December 2016 (CEO)

Brexit has raised many questions over the future competitive trading position of Britain in Europe. While the economic impact of the political upheaval still plays out, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the fact that for a long time, UK companies have put themselves at a disadvantage in Europe; perhaps without even realising it. That disadvantage comes from a lack of language skills.

While it’s fair to say that English is the lingua franca of many corporations, it is also true that global companies can enjoy richer, more productive interactions with customers, suppliers, overseas colleagues and partners when they are able to operate within different cultures in different languages.

And while enhancing and improving business relationships is a universally useful endeavor, it would be a mistake to think that language skills in business are a matter of mere social niceties. In fact, they have significant material impact on the bottom line. Mark Herbert at the British Council summed it up nicely when he cited the estimated, “tens of billions in missed trade and business opportunities every year” resulting from the UK’s shortage of language skills.


'Now More Than Ever’ - Why The UK Needs To Make More Time For Language Learning In The Run Up To Brexit

17 November 2016 (Huffington Post)

'Language skills matter now more than ever’ - that is the resounding message coming from the British Council’s latest piece of research on language learning in the post-Brexit landscape. But with language uptake low in schools - and the majority of us admitting our own linguistic skills are rusty at best - what can be done to make sure languages get the recognition they deserve as the UK prepares to leave the EU?

Well the good news is that the majority of us recognise the vital role that languages have to play in the current climate. Out of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed by Populus in our new poll for International Education Week, 63 per cent saw the ability to speak other languages as being essential if the country is to remain “outward looking”. 61 per cent said they were more vital than ever if the UK is to remain “open for business” in light of the result of the EU referendum.


Plan now to avoid post-Brexit languages crisis, say MPs

17 October 2016 (BBC News)

The government must plan now to avoid a post-Brexit languages crisis, say a cross-party group of MPs and peers.

Trade talks after leaving the EU will need more UK officials with language skills, say the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages. There is already a languages skills shortage but currently the UK can rely on other EU nationals "to plug the gap", say the group.

Ministers say their reforms are already boosting language learning in schools.


Turbulent Times: Skills for a Global World

26 July 2016 (Think Global)

If recent events have proven anything, it’s that the world in which our young people are growing up is turbulent and unpredictable. Over the past 12 months, Think Global has been working together with OCR to look more closely at questions about the skills young people really need to live and work in such a world.

Focusing on the views and understandings of employers, who can play a crucial role in supporting young people to learn and practise skills for a global world, we surveyed 500 business leaders from across the country and across sectors to build an up-to-date picture of whether or to what extent our young people are prepared to thrive both today and in the future.

Notable in the global context which informs this research, was the finding that over a quarter (28%) of employers were affected by a lack of workers with foreign language skills; a figure rising to almost half (44%) in London.

The full report can be accessed on the Think Global website.


Poor language skills and strategies contributing to UK record trade deficit

10 February 2016 (ATC)

Britain's poor language skills and strategies are contributing to the record £125 billion UK trade deficit, according to the Association of Translation Companies.

Commenting on the figures released by the Office for National Statistics, Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary for the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) comments: “As an organisation whose members are focused on helping UK companies from all sectors maximise international trade opportunities, we are concerned to see a reduction in the value of UK exports for December 2015.

“Recent research shows that poor language skills are costing the UK economy £48 billion a year in lost export sales and that organisations which have made the conscious decision to invest in professional language services achieve a far higher export to turnover ratio."


Why native English speakers fail to be understood in English – and lose out in global business

10 February 2016 (The Conversation)

Language skills are often trumpeted as a cornerstone of social integration, allowing citizens to participate fully in their host communities. British prime minister David Cameron recently announced a £20m fund for English language lessons to tackle radicalisation in the UK, for example. Similarly, US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has called for assimilation and English-speaking in the US.

But with transnational mobility and trade a defining feature of our times, what of Cameron’s or Trump’s own supporters and their ability to speak English within a wider international community?

Native English speakers are infamously unable to speak languages other than their own. As well as being a professional handicap, this has been shown to hinder exporters and hurt trade.

And now ironically, there is mounting evidence that in international business, native English speakers are failing to integrate as a result of their shortcomings when it comes to tailoring their English for this context. When it comes to English – the international language not only for business but also higher education and cross-border collaboration – research shows that, far from being able to rest on their laurels, native speakers are not masters of the world’s global language.


Participate in the BBC Trust consultation on Radio and TV coverage in Scotland

21 December 2015 (BBC )

The public are invited to participate in the BBC Trust consultation on Radio and TV coverage in Scotland. This is an opportunity to have your say regarding the use of language (including dubbing of foreign language and use of subtitles) and the content of broadcast about the importance of language in growing the Scottish economy. The consultation closes on 17 January 2016.


Scottish Parliament debate on Food and Drink recognises the importance of language learning skills in global market place

20 November 2014 (Scottish Parliament)

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
We also need to ensure that future generations gain the relevant skills to be successful in the global marketplace. Although business programmes remain popular, Scotland is still pretty behind on language skills. Our approach to languages in education is still centred on the traditional languages. We must ask how we can reflect the modern workplace and the business world. If we are talking about Scottish products moving into bigger export markets, we need that flexibility in languages. At recent food and drink events, I have seen a growth in translation services provided by companies that are setting up to help others with that expansion.


A series of blogs from the British Council on important languages for the UK’s future

10 October 2014 (British Council)

The final post in the British Council's weekly series on the ten most important languages for the UK’s future, as identified by the British Council’s Languages for the Future report, is about Mandarin Chinese. Here, the British Council’s Asmaa Ibrahim explains the characters, tonal differences, and sound similarities that make the language so fascinating.

Related Links

Read the other blogs in the series:

  • Arabic is in great demand and there’s a shortage of well-qualified speakers
  • Russian: beautiful, complex, and a window onto the unknown
  • Turkish: a fascinating structure and huge influence
  • The French language: romantic, precise, close to English
  • German and hipsters: the perfect match?
  • Single Japanese words can contain whole worlds of experience
  • How good is Italian for business?
  • Spanish: learning to speak the language of 400 million people
  • Which languages the UK needs and why

Learning languages is key to UK's success in the global economy

19 June 2014 (The Guardian)

The under-resourced teaching of foreign languages in the UK must improve if Britain is to compete in the global economy, a Guardian roundtable found.


Scots reluctant to study abroad 'endangering the economy'

2 April 2014 (The Herald)

Scottish university students who are reluctant to study abroad are damaging their job prospects and endangering the economy, experts have warned.

There were 126,000 home students at Scottish universities in 2011/12, but only 1810 left to study overseas, figures show. In contrast, there were more than 40,000 overseas students at Scottish universities in the same year.

While the numbers of Scottish students travelling abroad to study is increasing, the British Council, which specialises in international educational and cultural opportunities, said Scotland still had one of the lowest student mobility rates in Europe.

A recent survey by students' organisation NUS Scotland found the main barrier to studying abroad was the perception it cost too much. About half of students who took part also expressed concern that their existing language skills would not be good enough to cope in an overseas study environment.


Related Links

There is much to learn from study time abroad (The Herald, 2 April 2014)

Johnson: What is a foreign language worth?

11 March 2014 (The Economist)

There are pros and cons to language-learning. The pros are that working in a foreign language can make people make better decisions (research Johnson covered here) and that bilingualism helps with executive function in children and dementia in older people (covered here). The cons: one study finds that the earnings bonus for an American who learns a foreign language is just 2%. If you make $30,000 a year, sniffs Mr Dubner, that’s just $600.


The cost of a lack of language skills

27 February 2014 (ECML)

According to the Guardian, the lack of language skills costs the UK £48bn per year. For companies willing to trade internationally, “English only” is not enough and the difficulty to find skilled staff results in a loss of contracts, in recruiting locally seconded expats and more generally in difficulties to operate globally.

In all business areas, whether marketing, export, sales, but also in legal matters, language skills do play a crucial role. The cost of communication barriers has been well documented in the ELAN study - Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise which sought to estimate the cost to EU business of not having foreign language skills. The survey that has been carried out among almost 2000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) showed that languages on top of the wish lists of European SMEs, apart from English, were German, French, Russian and Spanish. English is clearly an extremely important language for international exchange but will not be enough to face future challenges.


Less people in NZ studying languages

16 February 2014 (3 News)

New Zealand students are dropping foreign languages at university level at a rate so high some languages are disappearing completely from the education system. Experts are warning that a country that only learns its own language could face big problems down the track.


Lack of foreign languages skills ‘hurts firms,’ warns Oxfordshire businessman

14 February 2014 (Oxford Mail)

An Oxfordshire businessman has told the Government that schools must teach more foreign languages for British businesses to thrive.

Gary Muddyman, chief executive of translation agency Conversis, based in Chesterton near Bicester, spoke in the House of Lords to highlight the issue. He warned that the deepening language skills shortage is affecting UK competitiveness abroad.


David Cameron urges British students to ditch French and learn Mandarin

5 December 2013 (The Guardian)

David Cameron, who has notoriously poor schoolboy French, is urging today's youngsters to abandon the language of Molière and Voltaire to concentrate on the tongue of the future – Mandarin.

In a parting shot, as he left China after a three-day visit, the prime minister said that pupils should look beyond the traditional French and German lessons and instead focus on China.

To reinforce his message the prime minister quoted Nelson Mandela, who said learning someone else's language is the best way to their heart. Cameron said: "I want Britain linked up to the world's fast-growing economies. And that includes our young people learning the languages to seal tomorrow's business deals.


Languages are vital for Britain's business & cultural development

25 November 2013 (The Information Daily)

Learning different languages is vital, not just for the growth of trade and business, but for Britain's political, cultural and education development. In many European countries, it's the norm for people to speak a second or even a third language - so why is Britain so stubbornly monolingual?

The recent European Survey on Language Competences found that just one in ten British teenagers progress past the most fundamental level in a second language, compared with an average of 42 per cent across all countries surveyed.

Clearly, this is a problem - although part of the problem may be how easy it is for Brits not to learn a second language.


Launch of Born Global: Rethinking language policy for 21st Century Britain

23 September 2013 (British Academy)

Today the British Academy launched a new policy research project, ‘Born Global’, investigating the nature and extent of language needs in the labour market and the implications for languages education from school to higher education.

As a key project in the British Academy’s language programme, the research aims to develop a deeper understanding of how language is used in the workplace for different purposes, by employees of different levels of skill and accountability. It will explore employers’ expectations of language competence and investigate the reasons for their dissatisfaction with the current language capabilities of school and college leavers and university graduates.


Which countries want to be influential and attractive?

19 June 2013 (British Council)

A new British Council report, ‘Influence and Attraction: Culture and the Race for Soft Power in the 21st Century’, discusses global trends in cultural relations and soft power. Anne Bostanci explains.


Exporters: Foreign Language Skills

18 June 2013 (TheyWorkForYou)

Question put to the House of Lords by Baroness Coussins “To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consider introducing financial incentives for non-exporting businesses that train existing staff to export, in line with the recommendations of the British Chambers of Commerce report Exporting is good for Britain but knowledge gaps and language skills hold back exporters, published on 10 June.”

Visit the website to view the Government's response.


BCC: Knowledge gaps and language skills hold back exporters

10 June 2013 (British Chambers of Commerce)

A survey of more than 4,500 businesses released today (Monday) by the British Chambers of Commerce shows that the share of Chamber members which export continues to increase. However, the findings also suggest that gaps surrounding the general know-how of how to take a product or service overseas are holding back firms from taking the initial step towards exporting. In addition to this, there is a major shortfall in foreign language skills within the business community. Rebalancing the economy towards net exports is vital for the success of the UK economy, so the British Chambers of Commerce is calling for more support for firms looking to trade overseas, while encouraging the take-up of foreign languages – both in school and in the workplace.


Related Links

Addressing knowledge gaps and the deficit in foreign language skills will boost exports (BCC, 10 June 2013)  The results of the BCC's 2013 international trade survey show that companies continue to be held back from exporting by lack of knowledge and poor foreign language skills.

Poor language skills are deal-breaker for economy, says BCC (The Times, 10 June 2013)


The multilingual dividend

13 March 2013 (Financial Times)

A few years ago, when Antonella Sorace visited the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to talk about her research into bilingualism, she was astonished to find the bank’s multinational staff worrying about what should have been one of their families’ principal assets. “They had all kinds of doubts about the benefits of multilingualism for their children; they worried that their children weren’t learning to read or write properly – in any language,” she says. “I found it very instructive.”


Question to the House of Lords on ‘Languages: The State of the Nation’ report

12 March 2013 (Hansard)

Baroness Coussins put the following question to the House of Lords: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the conclusion of the British Academy's report Languages: The State of the Nation, published in February, that the United Kingdom will be unable to meet its aspirations for growth and global influence unless action is taken by them, businesses and in education to remedy the deficit in foreign language skills.  See the full debate transcript on the website.


Related Links

Languages: The State of the Nation (British Academy, February 2013)

Cracking the English code

12 March 2013 (British Influence)

(Relates to England) There was much embarrassment recently for Michael Gove when the cabinet's golden boy announced that he would not, after all, be replacing GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC). Part of the reasoning for Gove's EBC had been to increase the take-up of modern European (as well as other) languages – where research shows that there are clear advantages in terms of cognitive skills and understanding.


Learning languages a way out of crisis, says Vassiliou

6 March 2013 (EurActiv)

Learning foreign languages can become a way for Europeans to exit the economic doldrums and find employment opportunities across borders, says language and culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. As well as producing more mobile and language-savvy citizens, European institutions and businesses should learn to better cope with a multilingual society, Vassiliou told a conference of policymakers and academics at the European Economic and Social Committee on Tuesday (5 March), an EU consultative body. “If we want more mobile students and workers, and businesses that can operate on a European and world scale, we need better language competences – and these must be better targeted to the current and future needs of the labour market,” she said.


Related Links

EU called to support immigrant languages (New Europe, 5 March 2013)  The Language Rich Europe (LRE) consortium has called the European Union (EU) and its member states to improve language policies, ensure economic competitiveness and build more inclusive societies. In particular, the group said that European institutions and member state governments should initiate new policies to support immigrant language teaching.

Summary of findings

More information on Language Rich Europe.

Culture at work - The value of intercultural skills in the workplace

5 March 2013 (British Council)

This research, published by the British Council, shows that there is real business value in employing staff who have the ability to work effectively with individuals and organisations from cultural backgrounds different from their own. In particular, employers highlight the following as important intercultural skills:

  • the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints
  • demonstrating respect for others 
  • knowledge of a foreign language

The findings of this report may help teachers argue the case for languages with pupils, parents and colleagues.


Related Links

Avoiding cultural chalk and cheese in the world of business (British Council blog, 5 March 2013)John Worne, the British Council’s Director of Strategy, argues that a lack of intercultural skills can be a big risk in the business world, as our recent research shows.

English as the language of Europe?

26 February 2013 (Language Rich blog)

In this guest post, Christiane Keilig from the British Council in Berlin shares her views on why just English isn’t enough.


No comprende: are the benefits of languages getting lost in translation?

20 February 2013 (The Guardian)

We need to find new ways to express the importance of learning languages, writes Professor Nigel Vincent. At the British Academy last week we released a report called Languages: State of the Nation. It analyses the worrying state of the current demand and supply of language skills in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and is the latest in a series of reports and position papers we have dedicated in recent years to the declining status of languages in our schools and universities. The aim of all our work is to drive home the message that languages are vital for the health and wellbeing of the education and research base, for UK business competitiveness and political standing, and for individuals and society at large.


Foreign language skills 'cost Scottish businesses'

27 November 2012 (BBC News)

A widespread lack of language skills could be damaging Scotland's ability to trade abroad, a report has suggested.  The British Council study warned there was a tendency among Scottish firms to limit their export markets to English-speaking countries.


Related Links

Fears raised for overseas trade as young Scots shy away from studying foreign languages (The Scotsman, 27 November 2012)
A crisis in foreign language teaching across Scottish education is damaging overseas trade, the British Council warns today.

Analysis: Speaking the lingo goes to prove that it’s not only travel that broadens the mind (The Scotsman, 27 November 2012)

Leaders: Greater language skills key to breaking trade barriers (The Scotsman, 27 November 2012)

Crisis in study of languages a risk to trade (The Herald, 27 November 2012)
A lack of foreign language skills is limiting the ability of Scottish companies to tap into lucrative overseas export markets, according to a new report.

Kaye asks why Scots are so bad at learning foreign languages (Call Kaye, BBC Radio Scotland, 27 November 2012) - programme available until 3 December 2012.

Trade danger of language teaching cuts (Scottish Daily Express, 27 November 2012)

Language cuts 'will hit Scottish economy' (Morning Star, 27 November 2012)

Language Rich Europe - Scotland (British Council, 2012)

European personalities urge EU leaders to back Erasmus

9 November 2012 (European Commission)

More than 100 European personalities from the worlds of education, art, literature, economics, philosophy and sport have signed an open letter to EU Heads of State and Government in support of the threatened Erasmus student exchange programme. The signatories come from every Member State of the EU and include the Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, the president of FC Barcelona Sandro Rosell, Nobel Prize winner Professor Christopher Pissarides and several Olympic champions.


Related Links

Record Number of UK Students Study or Work Abroad in Europe with Erasmus (British Council, 16 November 2012)

Why do we continue to isolate ourselves by only speaking English?

5 November 2012 (Observer)

Britain's future economic and political wellbeing is being hamstrung by our reluctance to learn foreign languages.


Why global awareness matters to schools

5 November 2012 (Guardian)

Schools are increasingly finding ways to help students develop as global citizens. But can we do more to incorporate global issues into the curriculum?

... The vast majority of businesses believe schools should help young people to think more globally and four out of every five believe schools should be doing more. Significantly, twice as many business leaders rate knowledge and awareness of the wider world as an important skill as ability to speak a foreign language. While they still regard language skills as important it is the 'soft' skills of cultural awareness and understanding global issues that are particularly valued.


Scotland keen to promote conversation with China: official

31 October 2012 (NZ Week)

Edinburgh, Oct. 30 — Scottish Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Language Alasdair Allan on Tuesday highlighted the importance of Scottish links with China to promote mutual understanding and friendship. Allan made the remarks at a reception at the Scottish Parliament held here for the two-week “Scotland in Conversation with China” under the theme of “Defining Scotland’s Distinctive Identity in an Era of Globalization The Chinese Perspective”.


Gillard: Australia must embrace 'Asian Century'

30 October 2012 (CNN)

Every Australian child should learn Mandarin, Hindi or other regional language as the nation's future is tied to the rise of the "Asian Century," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a policy speech on Sunday.


A Point Of View: Making sense of China

12th October 2012 (BBC News)

China's growing importance on the world stage means that the West needs to start speaking its language, says economist Martin Jacques.


University of Strathclyde Education Scotland British Council Scotland The Scottish Government
SCILT - Scotlands National centre for Languages