From education to employment

Isabella Moore’s exclusive FE News column

I was at a European Commission press conference last week to hear Commissioner Leonard Orban announce plans to place languages at the heart of the European Union’s strategy for growth and jobs. At CILT one of our aims over the past few years has been to make the economic case for languages so you can imagine my delight at this, particularly as Commissioner Orban’s message was underpinned by the results of research conducted by CILT into the effects of language skills on the European economy.

The survey found a good deal of interest to education, particularly vocationally-oriented education, as well as business.

We have real evidence that the need for language skills needs is on the increase. 46% of businesses across the whole European sample plan to enter new export markets in the next three years and a large proportion of respondents predict the need for additional language skills, along with intercultural skills also. Across Europe, English is a key language for gaining access to export markets but it is interesting to note the very broad spectrum of languages that will be needed by SMEs to support future intentions to expand into new markets. The picture is far more complex than the much-quoted view that English is the world language. Russian is extensively used in Eastern Europe as a lingua franca (along with German and Polish). French is used to trade in areas of Africa and Spanish is used similarly in Latin America. Longer-term business partnerships depend upon relationship-building and relationship-management. To achieve this, cultural and linguistic knowledge of the target country are essential.

The survey found that that a significant amount of business is being lost to European enterprise as a result of a lack of language skills, and that there is a clear link between use of languages in the company and export success. Four elements of language management were found to be associated with successful export performance: having a language strategy, appointing native speakers, recruiting staff with language skills and using translators or interpreters. An SME investing in these four elements was calculated to achieve an export sales proportion 44.5% higher than one without these investments.

So what needs to happen for languages to play the leading role in the economic agenda that Commissioner Orban sees for them?

Clearly the teaching of languages needs to be strengthened within education and training at all levels. We need to improve the match to employer need and boost opportunities for work experience abroad. One way of boosting motivation and achievement would be to make a period of mobility in another European country an expectation for every student in tertiary education.

A research study on behalf of the European Commission.

Isabella Moore, Director, CILT, The National Centre for Languages.

Related FE News articles:

English Just Isnt Enough – 12/02/07

Employers Must “Articulate Their Views” ““ 08/01/07

Lord Dearing Publishes Languages Report ““ 15/12/06

“Give Language Ideas A Go ““ 24/11/06

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