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Britons,

of the lingua mundi

The British do not have the requisite language skills: this is the conclusion of most employers of export-sales personnel in large international companies. 

 

The economy and the labour market illustrate the consequences. In 2012 the British Chambers of Commerce found, in a survey of 8,000 British companies, that 96% had no foreign-language speakers. First-time exporters cited language as a barrier to entering international markets.

 

In 2012 a European Commission survey tested the foreign-language proficiency of 54,000 students aged 14 and 15, in 14 nations. Sweden came top, with 82% of pupils reaching an “independent” or “advanced independent” standard. The average for all 14 states was 42%. England came bottom, with just 9%.

 

Part of the explanation is that many people’s second language is English, while many Britons continue to believe that, as native speakers of the lingua mundi, they do not need to bother with foreign languages. They may be right—in terms of communication. But it means that, not only are they missing out on much cultural interaction, they may also be harming their own job prospects.

 

They have not been helped by the educational policies of successive governments. In 2004 Tony Blair’s Labour government abolished the requirement to learn a language after the age of 14, causing the numbers taking a language GCSE exam at 16 to fall by half in state schools over the next seven years.

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