Language skills translate into business success

For the past decade or so Mandarin has been touted as the ‘must-have’ language for success in business. But, with the rise of the other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, will this be the case 10, 20 or even 50 years from now? Closer to home, the expanding parameters of the European Union will surely have some bearing on the dominant languages for trading across borders.


Many might argue that this debate is irrelevant as English – or something closely resembling it – is and always will be the dominant language around the board room table. In the last decade, there has been much discussion of the rise of ‘English-lite’ or Globish, made famous by former IBM vice president Jean-Paul Nerriere.

So, with English looking set to continue to be the accepted parlance in business, is there any need to be concerned about learning other languages?

The British Academy, the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences, has been worried for some time about the state of foreign language learning in the UK and has drawn attention to the “potentially harmful impact on the UK’s social, cultural and economic well-being”.

Language skills

In today’s contracted employment market, the need to stand out from the crowd is more important than ever and for those who want to work and trade at a global level it is an essential skill.

Confederation of British Industry surveys has highlighted the frustration among UK employers who cannot find candidates with the necessary language skills. House of Lords representative,

Baroness Thornton has drawn attention to the dearth of skilled linguists in the UK with some startling statistics: “Seventy two per cent of UK international trade is with non-English-speaking countries, but only one in 10 of us can speak a foreign language and only 30 per cent of us say we can even understand a conversation in another language.” She has also highlighted the complaints to the Foreign Office from companies investing in the UK who have to bring people from their home markets as they cannot find people with the necessary skill and grasp of languages required to operate at a senior level.

Despite the fact that English will continue to reign supreme, the UK’s top employers have made their feelings clear and nearly 300 firms backed the ‘Try Life in Another Language’ campaign, which was launched in 2010 to encourage young people to improve their employability prospects.

Daphne Laing from the University of Wolverhampton says: “As more people speak English, it becomes even more important for English speakers to learn another language – if everyone can do this then the UK needs to find another competitive advantage to stay ahead.

The first step is to identify the language that will be most useful to you and your business and build from there. Who knows where it could take you.”

Which language should I learn?

This is where the consensus ends and very much depends on the requirements of your role and nature of your business.

  • Research has shown that French, German and Spanish are perceived as the most useful for employers.
  • There is also a growing demand for UK community languages such as Polish and Urdu.
  • With a keen focus on emerging economies, Mandarin and Hindi still hold great value for businesses trading in these areas. In the future, we could also see the most widely spoken African languages – Amharic and Swahili – increase in importance.

For further information on the language support available from the University please contact Language Networks for Excellence, call: 01902 518 969 or email: