Tongue-tied Britons shun foreign languages

Sep 26 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

UK businesses are stuck in a time warp in terms of language and seem determined to remain monolingual when it comes to embracing European business opportunities.

A new survey of 2,500 UK employees has found that eight out of 10 have never been offered the opportunity to learn a second language at work, despite EU expansion and tougher competition from European businesses.

Scottish businesses are the worst offenders, with a mere eight per cent of employees being offered language learning by their employers. Yet even in London with its global commercial reach, this figure rises to just 15 per cent.

This reluctance to offer language training perhaps explains why the UK was recently ranked bottom of the league table of 28 countries for language ability by CILT, the national languages centre and why, according to the British Chamber of Commerce (some one in five UK businesses have lost business opportunities because of their failure to embrace new language skills.

The survey, commissioned by language-learning software company, Rosetta Stone, also revealed that the majority of business executives are apathetic and not at all phased by their dismal language skills.

Just seven per cent of respondents believed language skills are the most important factor to consider if their company relocated overseas, with other factors such as political instability and the country's infrastructure being viewed as far more important.

French and German were considered the most relevant languages to business success each securing a fifth of the votes. In contrast, only two per cent of executives felt that it was important to learn Russian or Polish despite the boom in trade with these countries.

"Our survey clearly shows that UK businesses are stuck in a time warp in terms of language learning and are strangely apathetic about the situation," said James Pitman, UK Managing Director of Rosetta Stone.

"In 2007, the EU is expected to expand again and it is therefore shocking that 80 per cent of businesses still refuse to offer any language training to their staff. It is little wonder they are losing business opportunities."