Britons lack languages

2004

Fewer than one in ten workers in the UK can speak a foreign language at even the most basic conversational level according to new research, even though many would like to work abroad.

Research by recruitment firm Office Angels found that a mere nine per cent can even count to 20 in any language other than English.

Fewer than half of the 1,500 workers asked knew how to say "How are you?" in French. One in five thought that "Quelle heure est-il?" meant "What day is it?"

Most of those surveyed were unrepentant – although many said that they regretted not paying more attention to languages when they were at school. Nevertheless, eight out of ten felt that they did not need to know a foreign language for work because "everyone speaks English".

But Britain's hordes of xenoglossophobics (!) might be less proud of their ignorance when they hear that more than half (53 per cent) of employers say that having a second language is the ‘make or break’ factor in hiring a new recruit.

One in five employers said foreign language skills were increasingly important to their business, with French, Spanish and Japanese the languages most in demand.

Unsurprisingly, the highest proportion of foreign language speakers were in the country's major cities. Four out of ten people in London, Manchester and Edinburgh broke the linguistic mould, and women were more likely than men to be able to speak a language other than English.

More than nine out of ten of foreign language speakers say their skills provide career opportunities other colleagues have missed out on, such as travelling, working abroad and attending international meetings.

Paul Jacobs, Office Angels managing director, said: "We are increasingly finding that even people with a second language at a basic level have better prospects in some industries than those without."