Employers disappointed at low language levels

UK employers forced to compete in the global marketplace are becoming increasingly frustrated by applicants’ "inadequate" foreign language skills.

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry found a mismatch between business supply and demand.

Setting out a series of wide-ranging recommendations, the report’s authors urged “radical short-term” measures to attract more teachers.

It also recommends post-16 language study be made an entry requirement for higher education.

The report said there is also frustration among employers at the narrow range of languages taught and the absence of coherence in the education system.

“There is a widespread view that public examinations at age 16, the terminal point for formal language training for most pupils, do not reflect the level of practical competence which employers expect,” it said.

The report recommends the benchmarking of training and qualifications. “A new framework for defining language competence should be established to allow employers to extrapolate from qualifications what an individual can actually do and to predict language capability.”

It recommends organisations review the pay of staff with language skills, particularly in companies where they are essential.

Businesses should also invest in the next generation by offering student scholarships and sponsorship for language training.

And it urges organisations to support courses at colleges teaching Arabic, Hindi or Chinese in areas where students speak these languages fluently because of their family background.

The inquiry found a “desperate” shortage of language teachers and evidence that university departments which train language teachers are increasingly under threat of closure because of dwindling numbers. “The shortage of teachers is now acute and is creating a vicious circle of inadequate supply.

“The minister responsible for the recruitment of teachers should implement a series of radical short-term measures to attract more language teachers alongside the long-term solution of making post-16 language study a requirement for entry to higher education.”

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