By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
In the UK we may live in a more multi-cultural society but according to one academic a “little Englander mentality” still exists, harming the British economy.
Dr Steve McCabe, Business expert at Birmingham City University made the statement following calls from MPs to improve the teaching of modern languages.
An All-Party Parliamentary Group on modern languages wants to see a “national recovery programme” to improve language skills. They urged all parties to make an election pledge to improve teaching and learning of modern languages in the UK.
The group claims the UK is already losing £50bn a year over poor language skills. It is the effect on the economy that is bothering Dr McCabe.
Steve argues: “In the almost 40 years since joining the EU the world now seems like a much smaller place and we are expected to do business across Europe, still our largest market, and, of course, the emerging economies such as China and India. However, my own view is that the ‘Little Englander’ mentality still exists. You only have to go on holiday to see that the British make little or no effort to learn the language.”
The stereotype of the ignorant Brit abroad may still have some basis in fact, especially in emerging economies, which are markets the UK should be keen to exploit.
Steve continues: “As today’s report shows, the refusal to make so called ‘modern’ languages – should we include Mandarin, Russian and Portuguese, the national language of Brazil – an integral part of schooling and societal values makes us poorer; not just culturally but economically. The estimated loss of £50 billion by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on modern languages is as staggering as it is an indictment of past failure. Do I see anything changing soon? Quite frankly the answer is no. That said we should keep hammering at this problem in the hope that change is urgently required.”
Urgent action is needed to tackle this issue, as Baroness Coussins, chairman of the APPG, said: “The next government will need to take clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills.
“Otherwise our young people will continue to fall behind their European and global peers in education and employability; our export growth will be stunted; our international reputation will suffer and our security, defence and diplomacy needs will be compromised.”
The Department for Education said £350,000 was being spent in England in the next year to help primary and secondary teachers improve their teaching of languages.