Language barrier blocks British graduates

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 12 14:36:26 UTC 2006

Language barrier blocks British graduates

Alexandra Smith
Monday December 11, 2006

British graduates are missing out on top business jobs because of their
lack of language skills, an academic has warned ahead of a review of the
government's foreign languages policy. Bill Houston, programme director of
undergraduate international business at Newcastle Business School at
Northumbria University, said a shortage of languages was having a knock-on
effect in the business world. Mr Houston said British graduates were
increasingly losing out to their foreign counterparts for top jobs because
they do not have the bilingual skills required for those positions.

Lord Dearing, in his interim report on language teaching to be published
this week, is expected to say that French, Spanish and German should be
made compulsory in primary schools. However, he is not expected to call on
the government to reintroduce language classes for all 14-year-olds.
Modern languages were dropped as a compulsory subject for 14 to
16-year-olds in 2002, despite protests from teachers and other
organisations with an interest in promoting language. The education
secretary, Alan Johnson, ordered a review of the policy in October.

However, critics warn that unless schools encourage pupils to study
languages past primary school, Britain could be at a severe disadvantage.
Mr Houston said modern foreign languages should be excluded from league
tables so that schools would have a greater incentive to offer pupils more
difficult language subjects. He said: "As the demand for business
graduates with languages skills increases, the supply of British students
with such skills has fallen.  German, Dutch and French graduates are
filling the gap caused by the UK's language drain.

"Students from throughout Europe have both the language and business
skills that employers are looking for. At Newcastle Business School we are
often asked by employers to recommend students with such skills and
increasingly have to turn to our European students or European partner
universities to fulfil these needs. "Those international business students
whose first language is English and who have a second language are in
great demand.

"It is not uncommon for European business graduates to be fluent in two
other languages. One of our German partners sends students to us for a
business programme then to Spain for a Spanish language programme. It is
now common in France for undergraduate business programmes to be delivered
in English, increasing the employability of their students with all levels
of business organisations. "We would welcome the opportunity to offer such
programmes in the UK but there are insufficient students coming through
the systems with the necessary skills to make it feasible."

The government came under intense criticism in the summer after year's
GCSE results reflected a fall in the number of teenagers choosing to study
a modern language. The number of candidates studying French fell by 13.2%
compared with last year, while those teenagers opting for German fell by
14.2%. There was also a small fall in students choosing GCSE Spanish. Guardian News and Media Limited 2006,,329659592-111348,00.html


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