The University of Cambridge has published a report claiming that the government needs to focus more on language learning in schools in order to compete with the international market. The report echoes similar claims made by the British Academy in recent years.


The report entitled ‘The Value of Languages’ followed consultation with government bodies and agencies including the MoD, GCHQ, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Education. Unlike the British Academy report, this one looks at the value of language learning not only in education but also in military and intelligence.

language learning
Professor Wendy Bennett

The report highlights other research which has claimed the lack of language learning might be impacting the UK economy by billions of pounds each year. Other parts of the report are derived from workshop discussions co-chaired by Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, and Baroness Coussins, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Languages. The workshop was heavily politicised and was attended by a variety of politicians which means it is likely to have an impact on future policy decisions.


“It is vital that we communicate clearly and simply the value of languages for the health of the nation.” said¬†Professor Ayres-Bennett, “English is necessary, but not sufficient. We cannot leave language policy to the Department for Education alone.”


“We need a more coordinated cross-government approach which recognises the value of languages to key issues of our time including security and defence, diplomacy and international relations, and social cohesion and peace-building. Our report aims to raise awareness of the current deficiencies in UK language policy, put forward proposals to address them, and illustrate the strategic value of languages to the UK.”


The report claims that language learning in schools must be looked at in relation to other national concerns such as military defence. This, it claims, requires a big change that will be achieved through a “cultural shift” in attitudes toward foreign languages. It points to multilingual military personnel being paid extra as an example of how other public organisations should incentivize language learning. The report implies that lack of language learning is responsible for Britain’s lack of representation in the EU civil service rather than structural Anglophobic bias in the EU itself.


“A UK strategy for languages would mean that UK businesses can participate fully in the global market place using the language and communication skills of their workforce,” said Professor Ayres-Bennett.


“It would also mean that the UK is able to maximise its role and authority in foreign policy through language and diplomacy. Educational attainment in a wide range of languages brings with it personal cognitive benefits as well as the ‘cultural agility’ vital to international relations and development, as well as enhancing the cultural capital and social cohesion of the different communities of the UK.”


The report does not seem to mention the fact that both public and private sector organisations have always been able to depend on professional translation services such as those provided by Empowerlingua. Hiring bilingual staff can be very helpful but is no substitute for a certified language professional whose extensive knowledge of language guarantees accurate translation.

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