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Why English is not Enough in a Post-Brexit World

Let’s tell you something you don’t already know – Britain is facing an uncertain future. Yes, earth-shattering news we’re sure, but one key determiner of just how uncertain your future will be is how well you are able to communicate with prospective trade partners in a post-Brexit world.

Continental Europe has always been very forgiving of the lack of language skills in the UK. The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries have set the pace in Europe in terms of their English-speaking ability, although the cities of Berlin and Paris are not far behind. But if an uneasy relationship with Europe after Brexit forces our businesses to look beyond the linguistic comfort of Europe, serious challenges await.

Language learning apathy in numbers

After Brexit, trade agreements with China, Russia and other developing markets will lead to missed deals for the UK if negotiations are only conducted in English. Given the fact that the UK’s lack of foreign language skills is already estimated to cost the nation up to £50 billion a year in lost contracts, that’s probably not something we should ignore.

Employers are also desperately seeking graduates with language skills and, more importantly, intercultural awareness and empathy. In fact, figures from a CBI Pearson Education Survey show that 58 percent of employers are dissatisfied with school leavers’ language skills.

Then there’s the fact that 30 percent of the UK’s language teachers are from Europe, so Brexit could actually worsen the existing language teacher shortage.

So what can the UK’s businesses do?

If the UK’s businesses are going to thrive in a post-Brexit world, we need more home-grown language learners. Research has found that students are more inclined to study a language at GCSE level if it has some kind of personal relevance to them. To give students that sense of personal importance, our schools need to work harder to offer more than just the three language staples of French, Spanish and German.

The British Council’s Languages for the Future report should give schools some food for thought in that respect. It highlights 10 languages – Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, German, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese and Turkish as the most important languages in the UK over the coming years. Although it’s yet to see what impact Brexit will have on the UK’s language needs, that’s certainly a good place to start.

However, the hands of many of the UK’s schools are tied. Limited budgets and frameworks set by exam boards mean that, unless things change dramatically, it’s unrealistic to expect schools to provide this type of language provision. Instead, perhaps it’s time to completely rethink the way language skills are taught.

The importance of choice

There’s no denying that English will continue to be an important language across post-Brexit Europe, not simply because of the need to trade with Britain, but also because it’s a lingua franca that can be spoken by much of Europe. In fact, more people in Europe are learning English than ever before.

But what is really important is the question of choice. Many of the UK’s trading partners can choose to conduct their business in English, while monolingual UK businesses risk isolating themselves by relying on their native tongue.

As Nelson Mandela said:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, it goes to his heart”.

Unfortunately, this is a luxury many British businesses simply don’t have.

The help you need to build connections overseas

At Linguistica International, our translation, transcreation and copywriting services can help you communicate with overseas clients and customers in their language, creating a lasting connection that helps you succeed. For more information, email info@linguistica-international.com or call 02392 987 765 today.