It seems strange that as businesses we’ve embraced the Internet and enjoyed the ability to trade globally from a UK location; whether using drop shipping or setting up warehouses abroad, the level of business connections between countries is the highest it’s ever been. Yet the one main facilitator for communication between international businesses has fallen severely behind, leading to a new report that highlights Britain’s “alarming shortage” of bi-linguists.

In schools, the language options open to students have barely moved on in decades. At GCSE level, German and French are still the most popular languages offered, despite many e-Commerce businesses trading further afield in Asia, India and Russia. In some schools, Spanish and Latin may be offered as an alternative, but while Latin can help as a basis to learn language, it’s still not enough.

The Top Ten

French, Spanish and German are still very popular, of course, and do feature prominently in the top ten most vital languages for the UK over the next 20 years, as designated by the British Council. There’s no denying, however, the dire absence of significantly influential languages such as Japanese, Arabic and Chinese in the school syllabus.

In order, the British Council’s top ten are:

  1. Spanish
  2. Arabic
  3. French
  4. Mandarin Chinese
  5. German
  6. Portuguese
  7. Italian
  8. Russian
  9. Turkish
  10. Japanese

The Statistics

Statistics reveal that:

* 75% of the British population can’t speak any language other than English
* 15% could communicate in French
* 6% could communicate in German
* 4% could communicate in Spanish
* 2% could communicate in Italian

The remaining languages on the list were spoken by less than 1% of the population.

Change is Imminent

If Britain hopes to trade internationally (and successfully), changes need to be made from a school level in order to facilitate the learning of languages. In twenty years, when today’s school children are in the workplace, many countries will expect people to speak a second language as standard.

This year it is going to become compulsory in English schools for children to learn a second language from the age of 7. Foreign languages currently only form part of the compulsory National Curriculum from secondary school (i.e. from age 11) and then only until students reach age 14, when they become optional subjects.

Here at BLS we want to help companies get ahead with all aspects of international business, and look forward to working with the next generation of linguists in order to achieve that goal.

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