41% of UK Firms Say Having Foreign Speaking Employees is Beneficial

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24th June 2014 13:00 - Education

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the UK education system is not producing enough people with the foreign language skills that businesses seek.

Almost two thirds of UK firms said they preferred staff with foreign language skills, with French (50%), German (49%) and Spanish (44%) the most favourable three.

Arabic and Mandarin are on the rise as the fifth and sixth most useful languages.  In 2012, 19% rated Arabic as a handy language for their organisation, and this has since risen to 23% in 2014. Similarly, Mandarin is now rated highly by 31% of UK organisations, 6% higher than its 2012 reading (25%).

Other languages valued by businesses in 2014 include:

  • Polish – 19% (-10% from 2013)
  • Russian – 18% (+5% from 2013)
  • Cantonese – 16% (the same as 2013)
  • Other – 16% (-3% from 2013)
  • Japanese – 15% (+7% from 2013)
  • Portuguese – 11% (-2% from 2013)

Of the 300 businesses (approx.) surveyed, over two fifths (41%) said having employees who can speak a foreign language is beneficial, but not a requirement when recruiting staff. Almost two out of three said speaking foreign languages is helpful for building relations with overseas contacts, with 35% stating there is no need for foreign language skills.

Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:  “It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under pressure with one in five schools having a persistently low-take up of languages. The jury remains out as to whether recent Government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning.

“Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language.”

Mark Anderson, Managing Director, Pearson UK, added: "English is the international language of business which has clearly been a real benefit to UK business, but as a global company we understand that a company with employees who can communicate with some proficiency in the language of clients, customers and suppliers, has a big advantage in the fast-growing markets across the globe."

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