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British Academy Briefing: On Languages

This British Academy briefing note shows that languages are essential for employability, trade, business and the economy, security, diplomacy and soft power, research, social understanding and social cohesion.

On this page you can download the British Academy's briefing note 'On Languages' and view a video on the many benefits of language learning to both individuals and society.

The script of the video is reproduced below.

Video Script

Language skills are essential for any society in today’s increasingly globalised world.

In England, almost one in five primary school pupils speak a language other than English at home. In London alone school children speak over 300 languages.

Learning a language has many intrinsic benefits.

And language skills are critical in an international labour market. [Onscreen text: Employability]

The British Academy’s Born Global project has shown that half of UK SMEs agree that graduates who speak only English are at a disadvantage.

70% agree that future executives will need foreign language skills.

Expanding Trade and Business networks will depend on them. [Onscreen text: Trade and Business]

Research shows that a lack of foreign language skills is costing the UK up to £48 billion a year – that’s 3.5% of GDP.

Our own research shows that 83% of SMEs operate through English only, yet more than half agree that additional foreign languages would be helpful to extend business opportunities.

Language skills are equally critical for international relations. [Onscreen text: Security and Diplomacy]

The Academy’s Lost for Words inquiry highlighted their importance to government departments and agencies. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has called for ‘more skilled diplomats who are immersed in language and culture’.

With 90% of the world’s research currently undertaken outside the UK, languages will play a key role in ensuring Britain can continue to access knowledge sources and engage in research. [Onscreen text: Research]

Language skills also have significant benefits for individuals. [Onscreen text: Cognitive Benefits]

Research has shown that bilinguals have an advantage in literacy and numeracy, and wider benefits include the prevention of the onset of dementia.

The British Academy has funded researchers at University College London to provide a comprehensive overview of research on the cognitive benefits of languages, due to report in Spring 2017.

Yet, despite all these benefits there is a deficit in UK education and research. Registration for modern language degree courses, A-levels and GCSEs has steadily decreased.

The education system is responding to these needs. Modern Languages are now compulsory from age 7 to 11 and are one of 5 compulsory subjects in the new English baccalaureate which will apply to 90% of GCSE pupils from 2020.

Universities are adapting too. Language degrees continue to provide in-depth knowledge of languages and their associated cultures whilst developing skills beyond simply the linguistic. More and more students are studying language courses in addition to their degrees.

But there is still work to be done if we are to make the most of the huge benefits language skills bring to both individuals and UK society as a whole.

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