The Barcelona Agreement suggests that schoolchildren across the EU should be taught two additional languages in addition to their mother tongue. The Scottish Government has endorsed this approach and a Languages Working Group was set up a few years ago to develop a model which could help to make this happen.
It is, at present, an aspiration rather than a reality across most of Europe, but in the UK, because we speak English, the lingua franca of the world, we are poor at learning foreign languages. However, with increased movement of people across borders, and the problems of refugees caused by war and natural disasters across the world, it is an issue that is not going to go away.
Interestingly, we came across a related report which described the issues faced by businesses in Scotland which trade overseas. This research suggests that Scottish companies tend to work around the problem of language by dealing mainly with English-speaking, predominantly Anglosphere, countries, thereby missing trade opportunities in other countries. Trust matters in business, and trust often comes more easily when it’s shared in a common language, particularly if it’s the customer’s language.
Now the problems of business may seem irrelevant to the problems of teaching school-kids or immigrants, but we suggest that there is a major connection between the two which is not often realised.
Economics tends to trump everything. A successful economy means prosperity, and businesses tend to lead successful economies. Businesses need to adapt to survive, especially since the world economy nearly fell off a cliff in 2008. As globalisation continues to impact on all our lives, whether by trade, immigration or simply going further afield for our holidays, part of that adaptation will, of necessity, mean that we have to learn more languages and use them more frequently, in our private, business and public lives. From the corner shop owner speaking Urdu, English and French to the businessman conversing fluently in Arabic with oil clients in the Middle East, languages are going to play an increasingly important part of our lives.