Language studies at an all time low

Fewer students than ever are choosing to study languages at university. With business standing to lose out due to a lack of local lingo, we take a look at a worrying trend.

The UK economy is already losing around £50bn a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce,” said Baroness Coussins, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on modern languages (APPG) last year – and yet 2014 saw a record low in the number of students choosing to study languages and literature degrees at university. According to UCAS, the UK’s universities clearing house, fewer than 4,000 places were accepted for European language and literature courses, whilst only 140 students chose to study Chinese languages, the lowest number for five years.

British language learning has been in a steady decline in the past decade as students have chosen stem subjects over the arts, and across the country language departments are struggling to attract both undergraduates and post graduates.

Many reports have demonstrated the importance of language skills to business and the UK’s overall economic prosperity, and yet there seems to be no change to the negative trend.

Politicians, and arguably businesses, need to do more to encourage young people to study languages as the decline, unsurprisingly, is prevalent even at an earlier stage.

Few schools prioritise language subjects and according to the Language Trends survey 2014, there was an overall drop of 31 per cent in the number of entries for A levels in languages between 1996 and 2013.

A report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England however came to the conclusion that while fewer students are studying languages in the UK, an increasing number of British students are taking up languages abroad, particularly so in Germany, France and The Netherlands. Brits studying there in 2012 and 2013 were most likely to study languages – and despite downward trends among full time degrees, it seems students aren’t giving up on languages altogether.

“One good piece of news is some students are opting to study a language alongside another degree subject – more should, it’s a particularly attractive combination for employers,” John Worne, the British Council’s director of strategy, told the Guardian.

Language skills are important to employers, and as businesses increasingly export abroad, more and more companies are realising the importance of language skills in-house. However, with three-quarters of British adults being unable speak a foreign language competently and a steady decline in people learning to do so, outsourcing is a common solution.

From foreign market research, to multilingual copy-writing, written translations, interpreting and verbal customer service, the benefits of language skills to business are endless.

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