Why languages?

Languages can bring enormous benefits both personally and professionally. Research has shown that language capability can, on the one hand, increase our brainpower; on the other, improve our levels of trade with the rest of the world by billions. And yet UK university applications for non-European languages fell in 2012 by 21.5% – and by 11.2% for European languages. Since 2010, French A Level entries have fallen by over 9%, and German entries have dropped by nearly 14%. If you’re still not convinced or want help in making the case, let us explain why languages are important.

Brain training

Languages can improve the performance of your brain.

Talking business

Businesses consistently stress the importance of language skills in surveys and interviews.  Speak to the future is helping these businesses to make their voice heard. Evidence also suggests that candidates with languages have greater earning potential.

Globally speaking

While English is an immensely valuable skill in its own right, we do not live in an English-speaking world. Other languages are growing rapidly, especially in terms of internet use.

  • The foreign language internet is rapidly expanding, with English being used by only 27% of users worldwide. The number of Chinese-speaking internet users will almost certainly overtake English speaking users in the next 2-3 years. (Internet World Stats, 2011)
  • The use of English online has increased by around 281% over the past ten years, however this is far less than Spanish (743%), Chinese (1,277%), Russian (1,826%) or Arabic (showing a growth of 2,501% over the same period). (Internet World Stats, 2011)

Languages at home

The UK is a multilingual, multilcultural society; the languages we speak are a tremendous asset in life and work.

  • There are over a million pupils in English schools who speak languages in addition to English. (Schools Census, DfE, January 2012)
  • There are 17 languages which are spoken by more than 10,000 pupils. The number of Polish speakers has increased from 26,840 in 2008 to 47,135 in 2011, making it the fifth most widely-spoken language in English schools. (Schools Census, DfE, January 2011 – NALDIC website)
  • ‘Having all these cultures represented in [London] is … a source of cultural and creative enrichment. We benefit from the cross-fertilisation of ideas and it means we live in a more dynamic, multi-faceted society. And global cities attract global companies so it’s good for inward investment and tourism.’ (Economic and Social Research Council, 2012)

For more sources of information on the value of languages, and tools to assist in promotional work, try our activisit toolkit.

Challenges ahead

For the reasons above and many more besides, languages are worth fighting for. Yet they are very often under-valued in the UK: by the media, by the public, by parents, students and policymakers. Here are some of the challenges and opportunities facing the campaign, both in education and in the workplace:

  • In June 2012, the government announced reforms to make languages compulsory from the age of 7. This effectively reversed their decision on languages in 2010, when they rejected the new curriculum proposed by the previous government. (Read our news item)
  • Numbers studying GCSE French and German plummeted by 54% between 2002 and 2011. In 2011, 19 out of the 20 languages studied showed a decline – only Modern Hebrew bucked the trend. (Examination results published by DfE, 2011)
  • In 2012, modern languages entries at GCSE increased from 309,397 to 315,444, up by almost 2%. Although numbers for French decreased by 0.5%, the rate of decline slowed considerably when compared with the dramatic fall of 13.2% in 2011. German declined by 5.5% between 2011 and 2012. Spanish saw a 10% rise and entries for other modern languages rose by 13.7% since 2011. There were notable increases in Portuguese (19%), Arabic (18%), Polish (18%) and Chinese (17%). (GCSE results 2012)
  • 52% of pupils taking GCSEs in 2013 will be doing a language – an increase of 22% in the numbers of pupils studying a language GCSE – primarily due to the inclusion of languages in the English Baccalaureate (National Centre for Social Research survey for DfE, 2011)
  • Only 9% of 14-15 year-old school pupils in England can use their first foreign language independently. The average for the 14 European countries covered by the survey was 42%. (European Survey on Language Competences, June 2012)
  • A Level entries for French in England fell to 11,298 between 2011 and 2012 (down 5.68%) and the figure for the UK was very similar (12,511 – a fall of 5.19%). Take-up for German A Level was down nearly 8% to 4,478. Even Spanish which has increased take-up in recent years was down in 2012 (by 3.5%) . Since 2010, French entries have fallen by over 9% and German by nearly 14%. Entries for ‘Other Languages’ increased, totalling in 2012 over 9,000 for the UK (8,786 in England), equating to twice as many entries as German and significantly more than Spanish. (A Level results 2012)
  • A third of university language departments closed between 2002 and 2009 (Language Matters, British Academy, 2009)
  • In 2012, university applications for all subjects fell by 8.7%: European languages, literature and related studies were down by 11.2% and non-European languages by 21.5%. (UCAS, 2012)
  • 60% of employers are not satisfied with the foreign language skills of graduates (CBI, Education and Skills Survey 2011)
  • In 2011, fewer than 6% of the European Commission civil service staff were UK citizens – there should have been at least 12% by population. Meetings are often cancelled due to the non-availability of an English mother tongue interpreter (European Commission)
  • 30% of English translators in the European Commission are due to retire by 2017 (European Commission)

Our objectives are to reverse the downward trends in the coming years, build on positive developments and ensure that languages are truly valued in this country.

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