“Operating effectively in a global economy relies on the right language skills – and the UK has the worst foreign language proficiency in Europe.” The CBI’s annual CBI Education and Skills Survey 2012 provides bleak reading on the state of UK employees’ foreign language skills. The UK’s share of global exports has gradually declined over the last ten years and, if the UK economy is to recover, we need to seek out new markets far away from our recession-hit shores.
Speaking the language of our international customers is good business yet we do not seem to recognise this. Employees need the right language skills and cultural sensitivity to build effective international relationships. As many as three-quarters of British businesses value foreign language skills among their employees, particularly in the manufacturing, engineering, hi-tech and science sectors.
So what are sensible employers doing to increase the foreign language proficiency of their staff? Where possible, about half the firms which recognise the importance of foreign language proficiency look to recruit new staff already equipped with the necessary skills. However, this can be easier said than done and so other employers invest in developing the international communication skills of their existing staff by working with professional providers of business language courses and cross cultural training courses.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of languages valued by British employers is starting to change. Western European languages are still very much in demand with Spanish on the increase not only as a major European language, but also as the most widespread language across the fast-growing economies of Latin America. Equally, the languages of China and the Middle East are highly valued.
The fact that one in five UK firms is concerned that a lack of foreign language proficiency is or may be losing them business is startling. This puts our businesses at a disadvantage we can ill afford in the current economic climate and it is in the hands of our government, education system and employers to equip our country’s talent with the appropriate language and intercultural skills to be able to do business internationally.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2013