Mind your languages! UK is warned it cannot carry on at bottom of class

The 'Why should I bother with another language' attitude does not work any more, says EU education Commissioner

Education Editor

Britons can no longer rely on the rest of the world speaking English to get by in the world of business or work, the European Education Commissioner warns.

Androulla Vassiliou cited figures which showed the UK languishing at the foot of a European languages league table - the EU had set a target of 50 per cent of people speaking two foreign languages fluently - yet in the UK only nine per cent of 15-year-olds spoke one foreign language.  That compared with more than 80 per cent of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands and Sweden, who topped the table.

Interviewed by The Independent, Ms Vassiliou said: "The results of the survey were disappointing - and very disappointing for the UK because it came last.

"I think it is because the majority of people (90 per cent) who learn foreign languages have their first foreign language as English," she said.  "There is absolute confidence amongst the British 'I can get along with my language - why should I bother with another language?'."

She added:  "This attitude doesn't work. We live in a globalised world. We travel a lot.  The EU, for instance, won't employ people unless they speak two other languages."

In addition, more business was being conducted online and people were more reluctant to conduct their business online in a foreign language.

Ms Vassiliou, who was addressing the London Languages Show in Olympia yesterday, added that Britons were also reluctant to sign up for programmes - such as Erasmus+ - which offered more than four million people across the EU the chance to spend part of their studies or training in another country.

Figures showed nearly 40,000 British citizens were receiving grants to study abroad from the EU - compared with 83,000 a year in Germany and more than 70,000 a year in both France and Spain.

She added: "It's not just about improving language skills.  It's about opening up minds to new ideas and meeting people from different cultures."

Figures also showed the number of degree courses in French and German had plunged  - from 105 to 70 in French since 200 and 105 to 50 in German.  In addition, the number of 18-year-olds applying to study European languages had plunged by nearly 17 per cent since 2010.

She said that the UK should take a leaf out of China's book which had asked for its teachers to be trained in all the languages of the EU so it could communicate with each country in its own language.

However, she said she had detected a willingness on the part of the Coalition Government to tackle the problem.

"There are two or three things which make me more optimistic," she said. "For instance, as from next September, they are going to teach one foreign language from the age of seven which is very good.  The earlier you start the better - but seven is a good age."

She also cited Education Secretary Michael Gove's new English Baccalaureate GCSE ranking measure for school league tables - which meant pupils  could not qualify for it unless they received a top grade pass in a language.  "It encourages young people to take a language - and the chances that they will continue with it are very good, too," she said.

In addition, private sector language provision was flourishing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect