UK held back by poor language skills
The UK will be held back as it seeks to emerge from recession unless it boosts the number of language graduates, campaigners say. From BBC this week:
The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) points to a worrying decline in the take-up of modern languages.
Cilt chief executive Kathryn Board said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far. Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”
Recent research from Cardiff Business School suggests improving languages could add an extra £21bn to the UK economy and that export businesses that use language skills boost their sales by 45%.
That's not surprising, simply because foreign-language capable staff make a big difference in terms of engagement with clients. At the moment, many Kiwi firms use amateur translators (friends and family or Google Translate) to process enquiries and then respond to clients. This is tedious and messages can get lost in translation. Worse still, many NZ companies do not even bother translating documents in dealing with foreign language speaking customers. The expectation is that the buyer will deal with us in English.
Much has been said of New Zealand's increasing trade engagement with China, especially since the signing of the FTA last year. But the clomid reality is much of our trade with China involves NZ importing Chinese-made goods. In terms of our exports
to China, I wonder how much we really sell once we strip out the contribution of Fonterra (dairy products), Fletcher and Carter Holt (wood products). Partly our dismal performance in terms of exports offshore is due to our inability to service foreign-language speaking customers.
The reason English is so dominant globally as the language of trade is partly because traders have always learnt the language of the paying customers. Our arrogant attitude in assuming everyone speaks English has been tolerated when NZ firms are the customers (which is most of the time looking at our current account deficit). If on the other hand, we are selling to overseas customers, the onus is on us to speak the language of the customer. Failure to do so could result in us losing the deal to those who can. The scary (or exciting?) thing for New Zealand is that we are becoming far less dependent on our traditional English-speaking markets and more dependent on other foreign-language speaking markets.
The English are getting very worried because of the dramatic decline in the number of students taking up foreign languages at school. In 1997, 71% of England's GCSE pupils (roughly NCEA Level 1 or School Certificate in NZ) took a foreign language, last year the rate was down to 44%. The equivalent rate in NZ is about 14% (8400 taking international languages out of approx 60K Year 11 students).
Cilt's director of communications Teresa Tinsley said: “We are going to be held back as a nation as we seek to emerge from the economic downturn or recession.
“Companies are looking to recruit people with language skills and if they can't find them amongst our home-grown graduates they will obviously bring in people from other countries to fill these gaps.
“We really need to buck up our ideas or we are going to be stuck in a mono-lingual world when everybody else is taking global opportunities.”
If the English believe they will be “held back” as a nation because “only” 44% of their kids learn a foreign language at high school, what about NZ where only 14% of our Form 5 kids do? There is simply no way we can be a serious player in world trade when we cannot even communicate at the most basic level with our customers. We are not even at first base.