In English-speaking countries, perhaps it is true to say that people have developed a malaise associated with learning or using a foreign language. After all, English is the modern lingua franca: it is one of the main languages for a significant portion of the world; the most commonly taught foreign language; and the official or preferred language of numerous fields (business, science, maritime /aeronautical communication) and international organisations.
The UK, in the midst of preparing to re-debut on the international stage due to Brexit, will need to reassess its ability to effectively communicate globally. Considering that a 2006 European Commission survey found that 56% of all EU respondents were bilingual or multilingual, the meager figure of 39% for UK residents who are able to converse in a foreign language is not only low, but represents a distinct disadvantage.
Since global trade is expected to grow to approximately USD 30 trillion by 2030 from the current (2016) USD 16 trillion, with the bulk of growth expected to come from emerging markets, it will be crucial for the UK to establish stable trade relations with high-growth countries in regions such as East Asia and the Middle East. At the same time, it is important not to underestimate the potential for growth between established trade partners: the value of trade with Germany is expected to grow from just under USD 125 billion in 2016 to USD 178 billion, a growth of 42%, or 3.5% per annum.
It is within this context that The British Council released its Languages for the future report which identifies the “languages which will be of crucial importance for the UK’s future prosperity, security and influence in the world.” Taking into account numerous factors including current UK exports and associated language needs, future trade priorities of UK business, emerging high growth markets, the country’s diplomatic and security priorities, and the public’s language interests, the report makes recommendations to business, educational, and governmental institutions to improve the language skills. Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic, and German (followed by Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Russian) top the list of strategic languages. –
At policy level, more can be done to promote, inform, and provide funding for linguistic programs, educational initiatives, and cultural understanding. Business organisations can better advise and inform individual companies seeking to do business overseas. As for educational institutions, which can build the foundation for change, the key will be to develop new language programs that prioritise and emphasise the programs’ importance to potential students. Language learning must apply multilingualism to real-world applications.
Article 50 was only triggered about 10 months ago, and, without a possible extension, the full Brexit is still a full 14 months away. Yet, considering the time that it will take to implement any of these changes in addition to the time that it will take to produce any significant results, supply and demand is likely to be sorely mismatched long into the future.