English may be a world language, but is it really enough to compete in the global job race?
Loksan Harley Guardian Professional,
Photograph: Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images
Graduates in the UK are facing stiff competition in this seemingly never-ending economic slump. Carl Gilleard, former chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), says: "Businesses require talent to compete at a global level, and the fact that the UK is lagging behind its competitors in developing graduates who fit the bill is a real cause of concern."
According to Eurostat, 54% of Europeans can converse in at least one foreign language. In comparison, just 39% of Brits claimed the same. In fact, only a 1% lower score for Ireland saves us from being labelled the most monolingual country in Europe. Aside from the slight PR boost from Nick Clegg's Dutch and Boris Johnson's French, if language is the "dress of thought", then our wardrobes are bare.
Having contracted a serious case of wanderlust on my gap year, I moved to the French-Canadian metropolis of Montréal. For me, living there while studying Chinese and economics helped push my proficiency in French far beyond my flailing GCSE level. It also helped me unshackle myself from the sluggish UK graduate jobs market by opening up opportunities in alternative countries and growth markets.
The Confederation of British Industry's Education and Skills Survey 2012 concluded that almost three quarters of businesses value foreign language skills among employees, and nearly 70% are not satisfied with young peoples' linguistic skills. German tops the list of languages rated as most useful, followed by French, Spanish, Mandarin and Polish.
A separate survey of 1,000 UK graduates revealed that 14% lost out on a job in the digital sector because they did not speak another language.
Speaking one language gets you onto the racetrack, but two will knock down half the hurdles. Communicating in a foreign tongue can be the most exhilarating experience. And it will probably help you get a job too.
Loksan Harley works for Kreab Gavin Anderson, an international communications consultancy.