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How will Brexit affect the need for languages in the UK?

More than eighteen months have elapsed since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and, blue passports aside, the impact of the referendum on day-to-day life remains unclear. Yet, its wider consequences are slowly emerging; as EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker claims English as a language is “losing its importance in Europe,” there has been a rise in Brits learning European languages though apps.

Indeed, the COO of language learning app Lingvist told the Independent recently that “the UK is already losing £50bn a year due to poor language skills.” This is a loss which should be addressed as a priority within all sectors, from business to education; here are our predictions for the way in which Brexit will impact language demand for British citizens.

Language education should be a priority

With languages no longer a compulsory subject area at GCSE, only 22% of state schools offer them as such. This has had a knock-on effect on how many people study languages at higher levels. Last year, German and French A-level intake decreased by 4% and 1.2% respectively, a decline in interest which has led to some schools cutting these language programs entirely.
Likewise, there has been a near-25% drop in interest for modern foreign language (MFL) courses at universities, which demonstrates the knock-on effect and sets a worrying precedent for the future of language learning. According to 2016’s CBI/Pearson education and skills survey, businesses see foreign language skills are one of the lowest priorities in schooling. This won’t just be significant for business purposes (more on which shortly) but in a social context. A survey conducted last year by the British Council revealed that 37% of those asked were “unable to hold a basic conversation” in a language other than English. By comparison, 51% of students “are studying two or more languages” in the rest of the EU.
Consequently, language learning should be made a greater priority to students at a younger age, with qualified MFL teachers being hired in primary schools to encourage children at an earlier age. While studies show that younger children do not pick up on other languages as quickly as older students, by instilling them with enthusiasm for learning languages early, they are likely to retain this interest (and understand its value) as they enter higher education.

International business will become polylingual

In the wake of the triggering of Article 50, British businesses have remained somewhat in the dark over how they will be affected, particularly in the case of The City. It isn’t just trading horizons which will need to be broadened, but linguistic ones as well. The CBI/Pearson survey notes that, while French, German and Spanish are still considered the most useful business languages, both Arabic and Mandarin are becoming as important.
Regardless of language, translation services will be more important to businesses than ever. If, as one prediction has it, 15% of EU businesses with staff in the country will move them out of Britain, there will be a dearth of people within businesses themselves who can handle the additional translation workload. As such, the additional paperwork (including translations) will almost certainly need to be undertaken by an external service. With companies eager to relocate after Britain leaves the EU, hiring expert legal translation services to ensure that documents and contracts are understood in their target language is essential.

British politicians may have to relearn a new type of English to deal with Europe

Considering Juncker’s comments about English losing its power as a European language, with only 1% of the continent speaking it as a first language once the UK leaves the EU, the fact it is spoken by 38% of adults as a second language means that it’s unlikely to go away entirely any time soon. However, one recent academic paper has suggested that “Euro-English” is developing within Brussels, which has been compared to the variations to the language adopted by other English-speaking nations such as America or Australia.
Euro-English takes its grammatical cues from romance languages, and some of its spelling quirks from American English, but phrases such as “hopping over” (to mean “refraining from doing something”, according to the Independent) are entirely its own. With their diminished linguistic presence on the continent, native English-speakers will need to get used to this new variation of their mother tongue, and perhaps even become fluent in it themselves.

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