"Dos cervezas por favour" is the old Spanish joke that the only Spanish words that British people know is how to ask for two beers when they are on holiday in Toremelinos. For the rest of the time, British people just try and get by on speaking English a little louder or a little slower than they would do normally.
While most British people (65%) attempt to learn a few words prior to their holiday , 40% of the 2000 people surveyed by the British Council said that they were ashamed of their lack of foreign language skills. 36% assumed that most people abroad would speak English anyway.
Brits naturally assume that because English is the global business language that everybody will speak it, but a recent academic report put paid to that idea with the assertion that our lack of language skills costs businesses £48bn a year, or 3.5% of GDP.
Small businesses are particularly discriminated against here because they lack the resources that large companies have to employ multilingual staff or language specialists, meaning that they only make a half-hearted attempt at exploring foreign markets, or do not bother in the first place.
The need for foreign language skills
Foreign language proficiency is needed for a myriad of reasons. Lech Jarz is a Polish language trainer at Unique's London School of Languages and teaches Polish at several London-based organisations. He points out that one can tailor a product to a particular market if employees have knowledge of the language and culture of that country. It also helps in the area of networking and building relationships with foreign suppliers and clients.
A British Chambers of Commerce survey published in early 2013 supported the findings of the report, finding that an incredible 70% of British firms exporting overseas had no employees with foreign language ability.
Lack of foreign language skills
It is no small wonder that British companies struggle abroad when we see that a derisory 2% of companies believed that graduates had highly satisfactory foreign language skills, according to a survey by the CBI. This is something that Unique LT consistently finds when it visits organisations and which our language trainers are doing their best to change.
The future of languages in the UK
Businesses have been looking abroad for talented multilingual employees, with British people seemingly being left behind partly because of their lack of a foreign language. The Government has decided to invest more in foreign language training in schools, but there is only so much that children can learn in a group class environment.
British people who are keen to develop their careers need to look at other ways to develop their linguistic skills, whether that is tailored training, time spent overseas or a mixture of methods. The fear is that Britain will be left behind.
If you would like to learn a foreign language with London's best School of Languages, contact us on 020 3566 0145, e-mail us or fill in the form on this page.
by Chris Mitchell, Staff Writer at Unique Languages