According to the BBC, businesses are missing out on opportunities to break into new markets because they cannot recruit multilingual employees locally. This stems from the fact that the current education system doesn’t emphasize the acquisition of second languages. Although the government is now targeting policies to allow for second languages in the curriculum, it will be a while before the system can provide the necessary number of multilingual employees to satisfy the current job market. Most of the demand is for people who can speak French, German and Spanish but the recent domination of China in global trade has also led to demand for Mandarin speakers.
Bigger Trading Opportunities
Although UK’s biggest trading partner today is the EU, Katja Hall, the CBI Director General, the biggest demand for multilingual will no longer come from Europe. Firms are now looking to trade in China as well as Latin America where fast growing economies are allowing companies to trade globally. Multilingual employees mean that transitioning into new markets is a lot easier and less costly. Today, British firms that want to do this have to hire expatriates which means bigger salaries.
With only 1 in 5 schools requiring student to learn a second language, it will be several years before these companies can hire locally. Although there have been recent government initiatives to correct this worrying lack of foreign language education, it is yet to be seen as to how they will be implemented and how effective they will be. According to Ms. Hall, the problems is that students are not being told early that foreign languages will give them vast opportunities in the future. This is relevant because languages are much easier to grasp at young ages and if they are introduced early enough, it only takes a few years to become fluent.
As of September this year, children will be required to start learning second languages from the age of 7. In the past, languages were compulsory from the age of 11, a policy which saw a great decline in recent years. The current crop will understand from an early age that languages are just as important as math, science or history. It will definitely give them an edge because they have better earning opportunities.
Are employers willing to pay more for these skills? The trends speak for themselves. Although they will not pay as much as they pay expatriates, they will pay enough to distinguish multilingual employees from those who are not. In addition to French, Spanish, German and Mandarin, they are also looking for staff who can speak Cantonese, Polish, Russian, Japanese as well as employees who can speak Arabic.
Is it too late for those who haven’t mastered a second language? Fortunately no. There are plenty of foreign language classes available either through the internet or through better option of a personal tutor. A personal tutor is more effective because you don’t just learn a language, you get to learn a little bit of the culture.