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Business travel on the rise – but what about language learning?

There are many indicators that global business and international commerce are on the rise. One of these is the stories appearing left, right and centre that indicate how many individuals are jumping on planes and trains to distant shores for reasons related to their job.

Only this week, Easyjet announced that it has managed to offset some of its half-year losses partly as a result of the number of people travelling for business. Despite winter traditionally being a slower time for the carrier, with fewer people jetting abroad outside of holiday season, the airline stated that an 8.5% increase in the amount of work-related travel had helped to bolster figures.

Highlighting the rise in these kinds of travellers is the fact that the company has grown its number of such passengers by 44% in the last four years. The firm’s chief executive Carolyn McCall told BBC Radio 4 that the airline had been pinching passengers from some of the carriers perhaps more commonly associated with business travel, such as British Airways and Air France.

Ms McCall said she believes allocated seating has been a huge driver in attracting business travellers who might otherwise have not considered the budget airline.

However, it’s not just Easyjet that has reaped the benefits of workers expanding their horizons. Eurostar – which carries passengers between the UK, and France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel – has announced a 7% rise in sales for the first quarter of 2014 as a result of strong demand for business travel.

According to reports, demand for business premier class tickets rose by 6%, bringing overall sales to a grand total of £227 million from 2.3 million travellers using the service.

We no speak Americano

But what does all this have to do with languages? Well, while businessmen and women seem to enjoy the convenience of jetting around the world at the drop of a hat in order to do business, it would appear the take-up of modern foreign language learning is not showing similar behaviour – most notably among Brits. This is despite these individuals being inevitably more likely to deal with others who do not speak their mother tongue.

According to a survey published by the European Commission, only 38% of British citizens are able to speak a foreign language, which is considerably less than the 56% average for the European Union (EU) as a whole.

Under one-fifth (18%) of people here are able to speak two foreign languages, while just 6% of linguistically-talented individuals are able to speak three or more. Across the EU, these statistics are 28% and 11%, respectively.

As the British Council said: “It’s official – the British are the worst language learners in Europe!” This may have something to do with the fact that more than half (51%) of people living in the bloc are able to chat away in English, but considering the figures showing how many people are travelling for business, is this a reason for monolingual UK citizens to dismiss the value of enrolling on language courses?

Furthermore, figures concerning higher education suggest that graduates aren’t recognising a potential need to have more impressive language skills. The Guardian recently reported how figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England published last month showed a 22% drop in the number of students being accepted onto full-time modern foreign language courses between 2010-11 and 2012-13. This means the number of undergraduates studying for such a degree is at the lowest it has been for a decade.

Until this trend changes, with business travel well and truly having taken off and until the polyglots start to take over, it would appear the future can only look bright for translation and interpreting services.

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