English may be the most widely used language in the world, but is it enough to only speak English? That’s the question Scotland is asking itself after the release of the British Council’s Language Rich Europe report. Unsurprisingly, the answer appears to be “no.”
The report highlights two related areas of concern: the declining number of Scottish students taking upper-level foreign language courses and the potential obstacles this trend places in front of Scottish businesses.
According to the report, back in 2001 most Scottish students took 4 years of foreign languages in secondary school. However, as of 2010 only 67% percent got that far.
In today’s global economy, the lack of foreign language proficiency could have unpleasant consequences for Scottish businesses. Already, the report says,
“Scottish employers tend to circumvent rather than address language skill needs by exporting only to Anglophone countries or those where they can easily find English speakers.”
That won’t work forever. So, the Scottish government has set about increasing the number of students who become proficient in foreign languages, in part by encouraging students to learn at least two languages after their mother tongue, starting in primary school.
Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan told the BBC:
“This government has set an ambitious target to increase the value of our international exports by 50% by 2017, and ensuring our workforce has the right skills to compete internationally will play an important role in achieving this. This is why we are committed to reinvigorating language learning and helping more Scottish pupils learn a second language such as French, German, Spanish or Chinese in primary school.”
To start with, the minister added, pilot language learning programs will be developed at 9 Scottish primary schools.
It’s much easier for children to learn a language when they start at a young age, so it seems like the initiative is on the right track, at least.