The economic case for language learning

Forewords from Brian Lightman and Roland Rudd

This report explores the foreign language deficit of the UK, marked by a decline in language learning

UK plc cannot afford to let its languages deficit continue. This deficit – marked by major declines in language learning at all levels, especially secondary – hampers economic growth and is a tax on trade, with the cost to our economy estimated at between £7bn and £17bn.

Over the last decade, a range of initiatives have addressed the problem, and arguably have succeeded in stemming the decline, but not reversing it. The inclusion of languages in the English Baccalaureate may encourage schools to place greater focus on languages, but there are broader issues with the baccalaureate and it cannot be seen as the solution. The decline in language take-up at A level began, after all, while languages were compulsory for all young people at GCSE level.

A key conclusion of this report is that there exists an information gap: young people, especially boys, often see languages as irrelevant to their futures, while at the same time employers complain of strategic skill shortages. Teachers recognise the importance of closing this gap, and many have long understood that employers have a key role to play. By demonstrating the practical uses of language skills, employers are already improving motivation, enriching learning and allowing young people to make more informed choices about their future.