It is no secret that Britons are apprehensive when it comes to learning languages – perhaps the reason that English is widely spoken around the world suits them well.
But it appears that the logic will not work for too much longer since businesses in the temperate island are becoming more outward-looking.
“Forty per cent of the members of the British Chambers of Commerce export their goods and services overseas and increasingly they are becoming aware of the fact that they need greater language skills in order to succeed in markets overseas,” Adam Marshall, the BCC’s director of policy and external affairs told euronews on the side-lines of the London Language Show.
The UK is at the back of the queue when it comes to language skills, not only in Europe but compared to many countries around the world, according to Dr Marshall. One in five businesses in the UK says language skills is the barrier that is stopping them from going into international markets.
But the potential is great.
“If we are exporting £500 billion a year at the moment, that could be a boost of up to £100 billion a year,” he said, referring to the possible results after equipping the British workforce with language skills.
That might be just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it is obvious that better language skills could lead to billions of pounds of international business for the UK.
Brits missing out
It appears that Britons, who make up 12 per cent of the EU population, are losing out on opportunities because of lack of essential language skills.
Only two per cent of the applicants for European Commission jobs come from the UK, notes Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. That may be due to the requirement of having two languages in addition to the mother tongue.
The good news is that from January 2014 a new programme will be launched, Erasmus+, to replace all various education, training and youth programmes which will have a significant budget increase.
“A budget of 15 billion euros has been allocated for the Erasmus+ for seven years. Of that, two-thirds will go to mobility: to study, work, train or volunteer,” Vassiliou told euronews.
“It is expected to provide opportunities to four million people in the next seven years. Languages are one of the six priorities, since the skill provides a passport to success,” she said.
What do Britons need to do to?
“The UK needs to start language learning much earlier and it needs to continue until much later. Language learning needs to become a core part of the curriculum if we are going to achieve our goal of rebalancing our economy away from consumption and towards exporting,” according to Dr Marshall.
What is Erasmus+?
Erasmus+, the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport, will be launched in January 2014. It replaces the existing Lifelong Learning Programme (Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci, Comenius, Grundtvig), Youth in Action, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Alfa, Edulink and the bilateral cooperation programme with industrialised countries.
Erasmus+ is due to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council (member state ministers) before the end of this year. The total budget for Erasmus+ is envisaged to be nearly €15 billion – which is 40% higher than existing mobility programmes. More than half of the expected number of beneficiaries will be higher education or vocation students and apprentices.
Erasmus+ is managed by national agencies in each Member State.
Videos of the Language Show conference held in London, October 18-20
Introduction and keynotes
Morning session part 1 and part 2
Afternoon session part 1 and part 2
Afternoon session 2: Lid King and Baroness Blackstone and closing by Rosie Goldsmith
Closing address by Marco Benedetti