There is one sure-fire way to boost your employability in the UK: learn a language.
We recognise that this logic feels counter-intuitive for many people. English is the international language of business, right? Why do you need anything else?
There might be more native speakers of Spanish and Mandarin, so the argument runs, but there is an international appetite for learning English.
It is estimated that in 1960 there were around 250m English speakers worldwide. Outside the UK and the USA, they could be (mostly) found in our former colonies and the commonwealth countries.
Today, it is estimated 1.53bn people speak English as a primary, auxiliary or business language. In China alone, there are 250m English speakers.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the take-up of A-level French and German in the UK has fallen by 50% in the last 10 years.
As well as the Foreign Office struggling to recruit staff with the skills it needs, it means few British graduates are gaining employment in EU institutions. As a nation, we are at both an intellectual and diplomatic disadvantage.
With 40% of university language departments facing closure, the skills gap is only likely to widen. As Boffey wrote the piece, the number of language students accepted onto university language courses was 13% lower than one year ago.
As he went on to point out in the Observer, the figure of 4,800 language students accepting a place at University in 2013 is dwarfed by the number – 45,560 – who will read for a degree in business studies.
To illustrate the absurdity of the situation, Boffey quotes Professor Mike Kelly, professor of French and director of research at Southampton university, and director of the government-funded routes into languages programme: “there’s a myth that the rest of the world speaks English and we don’t need to bother and that might be part of the problem. Look at the British-based firms owned by firms in other countries. Half the water industry is owned by the French, and the energy industry is going in the same direction. If you’re working for Compagnie de Suez and Lyonnaise and don’t have a word of French, you won’t go very far. You’re going to be reading water meters but aren’t going to manage teams.”
Kelly’s comments are sobering, especially when one realises more than 40% of British firms are in foreign ownership and some 39% of UK patents are under foreign control.
The simple fact is, while language learning is certainly a diverting pastime and classes are an interesting way to extend your social circle, language learning is not simply enriching for your own social life, travel or philosophical range. It is hugely enriching for your professional prospects too.
The decline in A-level language take-up and the 40% of university language departments facing closure not only highlight the worrying trend to linguistic isolationism, but also serve to emphasise how those actively learning a language are setting themselves apart from the average UK job seeker.
And, as comments from government demonstrate, these skills are in demand.
As John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council, wrote in the Guardian last week: “English alone is not enough for our pleasure, leisure or business.”
What do you think? Thinking about learning a language this Autumn? There’s still time to qualify for a 10% discount on our September courses if you book this week.