Language Learning in the UK

Prime Production - Language Learning in the United Kingdom

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”

‒ Frank Smith

As the GCSE and A-Level exam season for students looms ever closer and with Brexit on the horizon, the future of language learning in the UK is to be considered. Currently, about 62% of people can’t speak any other language apart from English, while 38% of Britons speak at least one foreign language, 18% speak two and only 6% of the population speak three or more.

In 2019, a BBC report found that foreign language learning is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with German and French falling the most. BBC analysis shows drops of between 30% and 50% since 2013 in the numbers taking GCSE language courses in England, by 29% over the last five years in Wales, by 40% since 2003 in Northern Ireland and by 19% since 2014 in Scotland.

When questioned about these drops, most schools said the perception of languages as a difficult subject was the main reason behind a drop in the number of pupils studying for exams. This position is supported by children having to be medically signed off from learning foreign languages as they find doing so to cause them extreme anxiety.

The government is looking at ways to reverse this decline; the Department for Education (DfE) has launched a network of language “hubs” to boost take-up of modern languages, has championed the use of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), wherein one foreign language has to be studied, and is encouraging teachers to expand the range of languages taught to include Arabic, Mandarin and Urdu. Teachers themselves are also implementing measures to improve language teaching and resourcing, to motivate more pupils to opt for languages.

Professionally, it is estimated that a lack of language skills is costing the UK 3.5% of GDP through a lot of lost business. Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) don’t have the same international reach or specialist expertise as larger corporations, and don’t find it easy to build relationships with non-English-speaking partners. Research by the British Chambers of Commerce showed that 96% of exporters had no foreign-language ability for the markets they served, which affects them all the way through their business process and can often stop them from exporting at all.

Prime Production Ltd are a leading figure in the translation industry, translating over 1.5 million words per month and providing 90% repeat business to its clients, including the United Nations and its various agencies along with multiple international organisations.

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