I’m going to stick my neck out here a bit and predict that no matter how many millions of pounds the government spends on language learning in the next few years; very few students will come out of it with the ability to negotiate business deals in Mandarin Chinese, German or Spanish. Of course with China looming there is a distinct sense of having ‘to do something’, especially on the language front: “UK businesses will be severely hampered.” (QCA) “The language gap will lead to a trade gap.” (CILT).
Why the panic? Do we really need languages? Firstly, let’s get absolutely clear about the needs; foreigners learn English because it is the language of international business. Ironically, our advantage and language learning dilemma is that we alreadyspeak English! Does this mean there is no need? Of course not. In business, just a few polite words to your counterpart in his or her language, are a very welcome sign of goodwill, and might give you that edge of competence which could mean the difference between making and breaking a deal. As a pedagogue I would say that 200 words and phrases would get you by.
‘Earwormslearning’ The recently released accelerated language courses claim that 200 words and phrases are easily taught in one week! Imagine this happening in schools and businesses throughout the UK. Every school-leaver could master useful situations in five or six different languages maybe as a multilingual GCSE. It would be useful for their future personal lives, good for business and fun in the learning. It would lead to broader cultural awareness, and be stimulating for the mind.
There is still a lot of muddled thinking about real needs. As native English speakers we have real advantages, which with the right impulse from government and business could give us the competitive edge. Let’s get that needs analysis conducted ASAP.