British Academy welcomes new research showing value of language skills to SMEs

11 May 2021

The British Academy today welcomes the findings of a new report by Aston Business School and the Association of Translation Companies that shows language skills play a key role in the success of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK.

Aston Business School researcher Ankita Tibrewal analysed 415 UK SMEs across different sectors and found that SMEs making use of language capabilities are 30% more successful in exporting than those who do not. As SMEs contribute around half of all turnover in the UK’s private sector and employ 61% of the UK workforce, the evidence behind the ‘LO-C 30 Report: Role of Languages in International Performance for UK SMEs’ suggests that investment in foreign language education could yield significant benefits for employers and the nation’s economy.

The report follows the publication in 2020 of the British Academy and partners’ national strategy to reverse the long-term decline in foreign language learning in the UK.

Despite the government’s aim for 90% of pupils in England to take a language (modern or ancient) at GCSE by 2025, fewer than half of them do. Across the UK, the number of undergraduates in modern languages fell by 54% between 2008-9 and 2017-18. With fewer students applying, at least 10 modern languages departments have closed in the last decade, and a further nine significantly downsized. The economic cost of the UK’s linguistic underperformance, in terms of lost trade and investment, has previously been estimated at 3.5% of GDP.

Professor Neil Kenny FBA, Languages Lead at the British Academy, said:

“This timely new research provides compelling evidence of how much value language skills bring to businesses and hence to the UK economy. The ability to communicate in languages other than English and to operate comfortably in unfamiliar cultural contexts helps companies to find new markets for their products, and to connect with customers and workers across the world. To enable this, it is vital that we harness the linguistic capacity of the UK and address the longstanding decline in take up for languages within our education system.

“The British Academy is continuing to work with partners to support the implementation of the recommendations in Towards a National Languages Strategy, actions which we must take urgently to help rebuild the UK economy and strengthen relationships around the world.”

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For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

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