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Should we be concerned about the decline in popularity of foreign language learning in Britain?

The UK’s lack of foreign language skills is thought to be costing our economy tens of billions of pounds worth of missed trade and business opportunities every year. The future of British language learning does not look promising either, as the number of those learning foreign languages at A-Level is dropping.

With significant profits potentially at stake, why are the UK’s foreign language skills still falling short, and what exactly can someone with foreign language skills offer your business?

Why are the UK’s foreign language skills so poor?

The UK’s foreign language skills have left a lot to be desired for quite sometime. Already in 2004, research revealed that less than 4 in 10 British workers could speak a foreign language.

“We don’t live in a language-learning culture,” says Linda Parker, director of the Association for Language Learning in the UK. So we depend on others to learn English instead. Owing to the persistently low number of people who speak foreign languages in the UK, it appears that this has attitude is deeply entrenched.

In fact, in 2014, research conducted by The Guardian and the British Academy found that 39% of young people are put off learning another language by a preconceived notion that “most people speak English”. Now education budget cuts are making it harder and harder for further education institutions to run foreign languages courses.

Even Brexit represents a threat to our foreign language skills. The UK’s exit from the EU is likely to spell the end of the EU-funded Erasmus scheme through which 200,000 students so far have had the opportunity to live and study abroad in Europe.

All of these factors combined have led to a worry amongst many linguists that our nation’s language skills may continue to decline.

What foreign language skills have to offer businesses.

Learning another language is good for more than just getting by on holiday.

Any company which does or is planning to do business with a client who speaks a different language will naturally benefit from having someone on their side who speaks the language fluently. And in our increasingly globalised society, doing business with someone whose native language is not English is very likely.

There also is a great deal of speculation surrounding how Brexit might affect English’s influence in Europe. English language schools in Britain are reportedly threatened, and 2 French politicians made headlines this earlier year by arguing against English’s current status in Europe as a result of the referendum.

So what can you do?

English is, at the moment, the most-used language in the EU. However, if its legitimacy in Europe were to fall in the wake of Brexit, that could clear a path for German and French to take the top spot as they are the second and third most-used languages in the EU respectively.

In addition to this, the British Council has stated that after English, Spanish is the most important language for Britain’s future, while it is also the only foreign language in the country which is growing (albeit only slightly more) more popular. For these reasons, having someone working for or with your business with these foreign languages skills will likely prove very beneficial.

Some companies like to hire full time staff with the relevant foreign language skills, others might choose to train their existing staff.

All-in-all a decline in foreign language learning is not necessarily bad news for business. There are significant perks to outsourcing your language needs.

A professional translation agency can offer all the perks of our foreign language skills on an ad hoc basis, without having to invest the money and time it would take to either train existing staff, or to hire someone new full time. And all of our translators have industry experience across several different business sectors, so you can be sure they won’t miss a thing.

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