‘But everyone speaks English…’  

I am sure that this will sound familiar to many language teachers and it might be tempting at times, given the global spread of English, to agree with the reluctant learners who express such views that there is no point in them continuing if they struggle to learn a language.   However, to do so would in effect be colluding with these learners and could result in compromising their future employment prospects. 

Nearly twenty years ago David Graddol’s book The Future of English, published by the British Council, examined various scenarios  as to how English might develop as a world language.  This was followed in 2006 by his report English Next, again published by the British Council.  In the latter report Graddol concluded that not only would EFL teachers who are native speakers of English face a challenge from the non-native speakers in the EFL market, but also that graduates who are native speakers of English and who are also monoglots would experience increasing difficulties in finding employment in the face of competition from multi-lingual non-native speakers of English in an increasingly global and mobile labour market. 

The relationship between language skills and employability has been the subject of Born Global, a research project t undertaken by the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences.  The findings have recently been published on the British Academy’s  website and give food for thought for students,  teachers (both at secondary and tertiary level) and employers alike.  Amongst the results of surveys carried out as part of the project the following statistics have emerged:

  • 63% of the SMEs (Small and medium sized enterprises) surveyed that use languages felt that ‘learning a foreign language should be compulsory up to school leaving age’
  • 78% of SMEs that do NOT use languages either strongly disagreed or tended to disagree that ‘It is a waste of time for English speakers to learn other languages’
  • 51% of all SMEs either strongly agreed or tended to agree, and 12% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement that ‘School leavers who only speak English are at a disadvantage in the jobs market’
  • 68% of all SMEs either strongly agreed or tended to agree, and 12% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement that ‘Multilingual international graduates have a strong advantage in the jobs market’
  • 71% of all SMEs either strongly agreed or tended to agree, and 14% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement that ‘Future executives will need (foreign) language skills and international experience’

All this is a reminder of the importance and value of language skills.  A starker message is in the preface to the Born Global  interim report, published in 2014, which quotes Professor Jo Lo Bianco  Chair of Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne, Australia:

There are two disadvantages in global language arrangements:  one of them is not knowing English; and the other one of them knowing only English. 

It is disquieting therefore that the latest Language Trends survey reports that the impact of the introduction of the Ebacc appears to have reached a plateau, and that teachers are concerned that the new A level will not encourage students to continue with their language learning. 

Thinking about future employment prospects is probably not uppermost in the mind of the average Year 8 student (many are now making their choices in year 8 rather than year 9 as they embark on three year GCSE courses), and one could argue as to whether GCSE is the appropriate course for all anyway.  It is vital therefore, that students at secondary level are kept motivated so that they do continue at least to GCSE level.  To this end there are just two months left to run of Routes into languages,  a project designed to increase the take-up of languages and mobility of students, before that too, like so many other national initiatives gets wound up.  Check out their website before it is too late!  In the meantime share your strategies for encouraging students to continue learning a language at KS4 and beyond.