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Brexit and the national language crisis

 As Brexit looms on the horizon, Britain’s monolingualism is a steadily-growing elephant in the room.

Collectively, the British fall short of the European average for foreign language abilities and, as a nation we are famously monolingual. In 2016 more than 50% of Europeans reported to speak a second language and in Scandinavian countries approximately 90% of the nation were noted as being able to speak one or more foreign languages. [1] In contrast only 25% of British adults claimed to speak at least one foreign language, up to a conversational level. It’s no surprise, therefore, that institutions such as the British Council, government groups and linguists nationwide are starting to question our ability to function on a global scale post-Brexit and have declared us in a national language crisis[2].


Business Needs

Our membership in the European Union has provided us with a single market, within which English is the most commonly used language for trade. Although no one can be certain what effects Brexit will have on the economy, it’s likely that Britain will need to re-negotiate trade deals with countries in the EU and globally. SMEs who export their goods and services abroad will find themselves entering negotiations with foreign nations, whose way of communicating may very well seem alien to the business people involved. Furthermore, 75% of the world’s population doesn’t speak English[3], whilst over 80% of British SMEs operate in English only[4], leaving us at a communication standstill.


EU workforce

Until now we’ve relied on the freedom of movement provided through the EU to build up a multilingual and culturally agile workforce. Why recruit a native English speaker who speaks a foreign language to an intermediate level, when there is a constant supply of EU nationals looking for work in the UK, who come pre-packaged with not only the required transferable skills, but also a selection of advanced foreign language skills and knowledge of other cultures? Leaving the EU is likely to result in more difficulties in employing EU candidates and thus creating a major skills gap and mounting pressure to develop our intercultural and linguistic knowledge. The UK’s language skills deficit already costs an estimated 3.5% of GDP[5] - how much will this gap widen post-Brexit?


Government needs

As a key provider of government language training, we have the inside scoop and can confirm the British Council has identified priority languages for UK diplomacy and intelligence post-Brexit as being Arabic, Mandarin and Russian, followed by French, Spanish, Farsi, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Turkish. However, very few of these languages are taught in UK-schools and whilst French, German and Spanish remain the most popular choices for GCSE and A-Levels, only 49% of students study a language up to GCSE level[6] and this drops to just 7% at A-Level[7].


What now?

According to the British Council, the 10 languages the UK will need most following our exit from the European Union will be Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Russian[8]. Mr John Worne, of the British Council has even stated that Britons not being able to communicate in any of the languages featured on the list will force Britain to lose out “both economically and culturally.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages’ has launched a recent drive to promote language learning in schools, but for some of us it’s too late. If we are to remain globally competitive post-Brexit, we need to start creating a home-grown culturally-savvy and multilingual workforce. Business language skills, knowledge of intercultural communication and awareness of different cultures will help push British businesses forward in global markets.


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Language Solutions Holdings - our companies

  Professional Language Solutions Ltd
Established in 1991, PLS provides language training in multiple formats and over 50 languages for corporate and government customers across the UK.
  Language Solutions International Ltd
Operating since 1993, LSI is the international wing of our organisation. We offer specialist English language training and assessments, as well as recruitment and manpower solutions for projects around the world.


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