We are increasingly, and rightly, assailed on all sides by opinion-formers telling us that we need to recalibrate the education system to take account of the jobs of the future. Two recent articles in The Times seem to me to sum up exactly what the problem is and why it won’t be solved any day soon.
Firstly, there is a major global study that claims to have found that “the job aspirations of children have changed little over the past 20 years despite the tech revolution, with teenagers still wanting to become teachers, doctors and lawyers.” The Times report suggests that even digital natives are decidedly conservative in their chosen career paths.
On the other hand, and in the same day’s paper, we read that the University of Sunderland has closed its History faculty because there were only 14 people wanting to study the subject there. Moreover, this article also tells us that the same university “will also close its modern languages department after no one enrolled for its course.” (my underlining). Furthermore, the university’s chairman is quoted as saying, “While recognising the value of the subjects the university is withdrawing from, the board of governors agreed that they do not fit with the curriculum principles of being career-focused and professions-facing.”
One of the most common reasons people cite for the lack of interest in foreign languages is that “everyone speaks English.” However, with the UK seemingly intent on realigning its trade to reach out increasingly beyond Europe and into the growing economies in China, Asia, Latin America and Africa, languages skills are going to be important – as indeed they are for communicating with European countries, where over 250 million people speak no English. The sad thing is that no matter how much language specialists might bemoan the trend exemplified by Sunderland, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any day soon.
Perhaps paradoxically, this makes interpretation and translation companies like Global Connects even more valuable. If the majority subscribe to the view that “they all speak English anyway” then when they discover that in fact “they” don’t all speak or even understand English then they’ll have a problem. Because it’s not just those 250 million potential customers in Europe that they should be concerned about; it’s also the four billion people in Asia who don’t speak English and the millions more throughout the world. Put simply, if you can’t communicate in their languages then how are you going to do business with them?
Fiona Woodford, Global Connects
P.S. And if you are looking for a career where, even allowing for the increasing focus on AI and ML, there is still going to be a demand for real people, then languages are certainly worth considering – just don’t apply to Sunderland!