Lack of foreign-language skills ‘threatens the UK economy’

MPs launch a 'manifesto for languages' to avoid damage to Britain's international reputation

The UK’s economy will suffer and young Britons will be unable to compete for jobs internationally unless the nation’s poor reputation in foreign tongues can be shifted, MPs warn as they launch a “manifesto for languages”.

An All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report calls for a “national recovery programme” aimed at boosting the number of people with a second language – saying that without a “step change” in the nation’s ability in languages, the economy will suffer and the UK’s international reputation will  be damaged.

The MPs are encouraging all political parties to make a commitment in their manifestos for next year’s general election to improving the nation’s language skills.

The number of students taking language degrees is at a record low, with 44 universities scrapping courses since 2000, their report says.

It also points to evidence that only 9 per cent of English  15-year-olds are competent in their first foreign language beyond a basic level.

High-quality language learning should be available for all children from the age of seven, with a goal of all pupils gaining a good language qualification by the end of secondary school, the MPs say.

Businesses and employers should also be involved in improving language skills, and there must be a commitment to “maintaining and developing UK expertise in modern languages and cultures in university language departments,” the APPG said.

Baroness Coussins, a crossbench peer and chair of the APPG said: “The next government will need to take clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign-language skills. Otherwise our young people will continue to fall behind their European and global peers in education and employability; our export growth will be stunted; our international reputation will suffer and our security, defence and diplomacy needs will be compromised.”

Ian Bauckham, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools cannot solve this problem alone. We are supporting this approach because it includes employers, political parties and universities, all making a commitment to address the issue,” he added.

A Department for Education spokesman said it was driving a “languages revival” after “years of decline”, making it compulsory for children to learn a language from seven to 14, and will spend £350,000 on improving languages teaching over the next year.

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