Scotland business

Foreign language skills 'cost Scottish businesses'

Children in class with globe
Image caption The report said the position of foreign languages in secondary schools was "a matter of concern"

A widespread lack of language skills could be damaging Scotland's ability to trade abroad, a report has suggested.

The British Council study warned there was a tendency among Scottish firms to limit their export markets to English-speaking countries.

It also suggested there was a "wholesale decline" in foreign language study in schools and higher education.

The Scottish government responded by saying it was committed to "reinvigorating language learning".

The British Council's Language Rich Europe report examined how different European countries approached the teaching and use of regional, minority and foreign languages.

Its chapter on Scotland described the current position of foreign languages in secondary schools as "a matter of concern".

The report said that in 2001, almost all pupils in Scotland studied a language up to fourth year of secondary school - but by 2010 this had dropped to 67%.

It claimed a belief by employers and skills forecasters that "English is enough" had had a negative effect on language provision in both further and higher education.

It added: "Scottish employers tend to circumvent rather than address language skill needs by exporting only to Anglophone countries or those where they can easily find English speakers."

However, the report also highlighted successes, particularly in Gaelic education and the early adoption of foreign language learning at primary school level.

Image caption Lloyd Anderson said Scotland could be missing out on export opportunities

It also described moves by the Scottish government to introduce a "1+2" approach to language learning - where every child would learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue - as "a positive step".

Lloyd Anderson of British Council Scotland said: "This report appears to confirm our fear that Scotland could be missing out on export opportunities if we simply expect everyone to speak English.

"Language learning is a vital component of being good 'global citizens'.

"In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, our young people and future workforce will be at a disadvantage if they lack language skills and cultural awareness."

The Language Rich Europe report was led by the British Council and funded by the European Commission.

Its findings were released ahead of a National Languages Conference in Stirling, organised by the Scottish government, which will discuss ways of increasing the number of children and young people taking "high quality" language learning in Scotland.

Responding to the study, Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said: "This government has set an ambitious target to increase the value of our international exports by 50% by 2017, and ensuring our workforce has the right skills to compete internationally will play an important role in achieving this.

"This is why we are committed to reinvigorating language learning and helping more Scottish pupils learn a second language such as French, German, Spanish or Chinese in primary school.

"These radical steps aim to increase the numbers of our children and young people gaining qualifications in languages, supporting them to be prepared and ready to flourish in the globalised, multi-lingual world we live in.

"We will build on existing good practice across the country, with joined up delivery between primary and secondary schools in developing local plans for implementation."

He added that the government had identified nine schools across Scotland which would explore ways of improving language learning.

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