BRITISH CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE REPORT
Focus on the importance of knowledge of other languages
A survey of over 8,000 businesses released on 12 April by the British Chambers of Commerce, shows that exporting activity continues to increase. However, the findings also suggest that providing firms with more training in foreign languages, and increasing their exposure to international companies would encourage more business owners to export. Economic growth relies upon British businesses being able to export more, so the British Chambers of Commerce is calling for more support for firms to help them trade internationally.
Knowledge of other languages is an important skill for exporters. 61% of non-exporters that are likely to consider trading internationally consider a lack of language skills as a barrier to doing so.
However, of those business owners that claim some language knowledge, very few can speak well enough to conduct deals in international markets. French is the most commonly spoken language, with 73% of business owners claiming some knowledge. However, only four percent are able to converse fluently enough in French to conduct business deals. This number drops significantly for those languages spoken in the fastest growing markets. In 2012, the IMF projects that the Chinese economy will grow by 9.5%, but just four percent of business owners claim any knowledge of the language, with less than one percent confident they could converse fluently.
Re-establishing foreign languages as core subjects within the UK national curriculum and in workplace training would mean that the next generation of business owners are ‘born global’ with language skills. The BCC is calling for the National Curriculum to be revised so that studying a foreign language is compulsory until AS level. Businesses could also be helped in training staff in new languages, if the government offered additional financial incentives such as tax credits for small and medium-sized businesses that make a significant investment in language training.
Key Recommendations in report:
Re-establish foreign languages as core subjects within the UK national curriculum and in workplace training.
There needs to be a fundamental reappraisal of the importance of language learning to Britain’s future competitive position and business success. The National Curriculum must be revised so that studying a foreign language is compulsory until AS level. It is important to ensure that the next generation of business owners are ‘born global’ with language skills. Businesses must also invest in language skills for their existing staff. Additional financial incentives, such as tax credits for small and medium-sized businesses that make a significant investment in language training, could support both take-up and ensuring a tailored business language offer.
Understanding of the commercial aspects of exporting must be embedded in higher and further education courses. Business degrees and further education qualifications focussed on commercial subjects must include compulsory modules on international trade and exports so that incoming commercial staff are export-ready as they enter the workforce over the next 2 – 5 years.
Note 1 The Daily Mail reported on 12 April that ‘A report by the CfBT Education Trust reveals that in 2001 321,207 pupils sat a GCSE in French. In 2011 just 141,700 did so. Those taking German plunged from 130,627 to 58,300. Kate Board, head of languages at CfBT, said: ‘There is no doubt this has and will continue to have a significant impact on our ability to participate fully in the global marketplace unless changes are made.’
Language Learning in Secondary Schools in England-CFBT Education Trust- Teresa Tinsley, Youping Han-2012
Note 2 The Daily Telegraph reported on 10 April that few diplomats are fluent in the language of the country where they work. Just one in 40 British diplomats is fluent in the language of the country where they work with the majority lacking even basic grasp sufficient for day-to-day exchanges.
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