As David Cameron currently attempts to entice the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, to invest huge amounts of money (anything up to £18bn!) into some of the largest projects in the UK’s pipeline, the importance of international trade, and consequently multilingualism, in the global market continues to be apparent.
While goods and services are becoming increasingly transnational, fewer than ten per cent of British students choose to do any sort of language learning post-GCSE, failing to see the benefits of continuing their studies. In contrast, the rest of the world are fast leaving us behind with a recent European languages league table finding that Britons are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst in Europe at speaking more than one language.
The common misconception, which the majority of us are guilty of believing, is that the rest of the world speaks English so there is no need for our future generations to learn other languages. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that English is currently the world’s number one business language. However, with 94 per cent of the world not speaking English as their first language and over 873 million native Mandarin speakers, the importance of other languages within the business domain shouldn’t be disregarded as foreign populations, economies, and investments continue to grow.
Although Mr Cameron and Mr Keqiang will undoubtedly have a huge group of translators and interpreters surrounding them to ensure that their every need and desire is understood by the other, this kind of entourage is not sustainable for smaller, lesser-known businesses trading in a globalised world.
Being unable to communicate with a foreign company in their mother tongue puts a company on the back foot when it comes to clinching a deal. They are at the mercy of the multilingual company and their interpreter or translator. Instead of relying on their use of English, which gives leeway for miscommunication, we should be thinking about taking the initiative and encouraging the study of foreign languages.
I realise that I’m writing this from a completely biased perspective having recently completed a degree in French and Spanish, but after studying languages for over ten years I would find it difficult to list many negatives of being able to communicate in more than one language. Foreign language learning is not just about grammar or vocabulary, there’s a cultural understanding as well, making those who know foreign languages an asset to any business wishing to expand in the competitive global market.