Learn languages or lose out on jobs

Britons are missing out on jobs at home and abroad because of their inability to speak languages other than English, the European Union commissioner for languages has warned. I came across an interesting article that is perhaps informative for us here in New Zealand.

Leonard Orban, the EU commissioner for multilingualism, says that small- to medium-sized companies in the UK are increasingly turning to foreign nationals to fill jobs that call for more than one language.

His comments came as it emerged that the European Commission is facing such a severe shortage of native English-speaking interpreters that meetings are being cancelled. The commission also warns that it may have to cut the number of documents it translates because of the dwindling number of British students with degrees in French and German.

Since 2002, member states have been committed to a policy of working towards all citizens speaking their mother tongue plus two other languages. A league table to be in place by 2010 will show the competence of students in different EU countries at the end of compulsory schooling. It is widely accepted that Britain will be near the bottom.

If British graduates are missing out on jobs because they are on the whole monolingual, then surely this is true, if not more so, for New Zealand graduates as well. The tragedy is that we live in ignorance of this fact. I have yet to see any local publication talk about this issue.

Does this mean we should force everyone to start learning a second language? No.

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Not everyone is into language learning, in the same way that not everyone is into algebra. However, students who are keen to explore language learning should be given the opportunities and encouragement to do so.

Increasingly, knowledge of a second language is not just something that's nice to have, but an economic imperative.

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.