Ruth Mitchell

Monolingualism is losing business

82% of employees in the North of England have never been offered the opportunity to learn a second language at work, despite EU expansion and tougher competition from European businesses. The survey of 2500 UK employees was commissioned by language learning course providers Rosetta Stone and is announced today on the European Day of Languages.

The UK was recently ranked bottom of the league table of 28 countries for language ability by CILT, the national languages centre. The British Chamber of Commerce has found that 20% of UK businesses have lost business opportunities because of their failure to embrace new language skills.

Despite a boom in trade with Russia (exports to Russia in 2005 reached an all-time high of £1.8bn according to UK Trade and Investment) and the EU accession of major Eastern European countries such as Poland, businesses do not equate learning Russian or Polish with economic success. Only four per cent of executives questioned felt that it was important to learn one of these languages.

Russian was considered the most difficult language to learn by 40% of respondents, compared to French and German which received just 1% and 2% of the vote respectively. 20% of respondents in the North believe that Welsh and Greek are the most difficult languages to learn.

James Pitman, UK Managing Director of Rosetta Stone commented, “Our survey clearly shows that UK businesses are stuck in a time warp in terms of language learning and are strangely apathetic about the situation. In 2007, the EU is expected to expand again and it is therefore shocking that 82% of businesses still refuse to offer any language training to their staff. It is little wonder they are losing business opportunities.”

“Language learning is suffering in secondary education equally, which has been compounded by the government’s ending of compulsory language learning. This year’s GCSE results showed a 13.2% decrease in the number of pupils taking French and 14.2% taking German from 2005. As research from the British Chamber of Commerce shows, there is a direct link between UK business success and language skills so from an economic perspective, failure to embrace languages is a risk that is simply not worth taking.”

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