Out in the coldBritain needs to be investing in upskilling communications among its workforce. Yet as it stands, we still have an alarming shortage of linguistic finesse – and it costs. According to a recent YouGov poll by the British Council, over 75 per cent of the British public cannot speak what are regarded as the “10 most important languages” well enough to hold a conversation, while 1 per cent or less can speak Arabic, Mandarin, Russian or Turkish. These deficient language skills and the presumption that international business partners or customers will speak English is costing the UK economy about 3.5 per cent of GDP, according to research from the Department of Business. Over 70 per cent of exporters currently have no foreign language ability in the countries in which they operate and 62 per cent of non-exporting businesses who are searching for international opportunities claim that a lack of language skills is acting as a barrier to the global success of their business. In a poll conducted by language trainer Rosetta Stone, 87 per cent identified more than one critical language in use by their organisation and two thirds expressed dissatisfaction with the current linguistic skills of their employees.
Unless something is done to amend this issue, Britain may lose a valuable opportunity to open up its trade to the globe and the rhetoric of Britain being viewed as an unconnected island may ring true. There is a fairly straightforward change that could be made: systematic linguistic training in business schools, education and through employee up-skills initiatives. Companies that do not have a multilingual workforce should perhaps, for instance, consider improving languages in the same way they would with IT and first aid. What is essential is that business leaders are prepared to be flexible and adapt to the changing circumstances after Brexit. The UK has plenty going in its favour and is a highly attractive location for businesses but the engagement of firms in linguistic training is likely to be essential if the UK is to expand its global reach in coming years.