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Thomas Matussek: 'Language skills are good for firms and for individuals'

From a speech by the German Ambassador, delivered at the Conference on Languages for Competitive Advantage, held in Birmingham

We all live in a globalised world, with unprecedented potential for communication. In order to make all this potential accessible, especially to our younger generations, we need that mutual understanding which is not possible without the knowledge of the partner's language. In this sense, the acquisition of foreign language skills is, as ever larger sections of the British public are realising, a cultural and economic necessity.

In the last few years, there has been growing awareness of the vital importance of language learning in Britain. Increasingly, politicians, experts and parts of the media are appreciating this. The greatest task probably lies in raising the awareness of the British public. In the home country of English, the world language, the task of persuasion is especially difficult.

There are many reasons for learning a language: Learning a foreign language at the earliest possible age opens up a new dimension for children. It greatly benefits their reading and writing in their own language, and there's evidence that, like musical education, it contributes significantly to the development of individual intelligence; and it concretely improves overall results at school. Early language learning can also have a vital social function. By learning a new language, you develop your personality, you gain new horizons, but at the same time you reinforce your own identity, and therefore your self-confidence.

The importance of language skills for business and the economy has been much debated lately. There's no doubt that having staff with language skills can significantly improve a company's prospects, depending on the sector and market. But the gain to the individual's career prospects is beyond question. Anyone who can add language skills to their CV need not fear for his or her professional future.

I very much hope that this insight will continue as quickly as possible to gain ground in the business world. But I am quite certain that business will sooner or later realise its own interests and act accordingly.