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Under-investment in language learning costs UK business billions

02 October 2007

The UK is missing out on a minimum of £9 billion a year through its lack of investment in language learning.

A new report by Cardiff Business School academic Professor James Foreman-Peck found that raising British language competence to the same standard as the rest of the world would be the economic equivalent of a tax reduction on exports of at least 3 per cent.

Language skills are shown to be closely related to the export ability of both firms and economies as a whole. Underinvestment in languages leaves the UK and its businesses at a significant disadvantage.

Factors which contribute to this failure to operate efficiently include over-estimation of the economic advantages of speaking English, barriers to accessing information about foreign markets (because of lack of language skills) and the fixed costs of language investment, particularly for small businesses.

Professor Foreman-Peck said: "Language complacency has a significant negative effect on British exports. Other nations’ propensity to learn English is not enough to compensate for our own underinvestment in language skills.

"Sharing a common language with trading partners has a significantly greater impact on the pattern of UK trade than the average for the rest of the world. If the UK was gaining from non-native English-speaking nations’ investment in English enough to compensate for British language ignorance, we would not find this effect."

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Notes to Editors:

  1. Cardiff Business School is the largest single academic department of Cardiff University. It is recognised as one of the leading business and management schools in the UK, regularly ranked in the top 10 of more than 100 similar institutions.
  2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, the University today combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s leading research universities.

Visit the University website at: www.cardiff.ac.uk

  1. Professor Foreman Peck’s findings are taken from the ELAN report, which can be found in full at ELAN: Effects on the European economy of shortages of language skills in enterprise, 2007. http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lang/key/studies_en.html .
  2. The ELAN report was commissioned by CILT, the National Centre for Languages, the government’s recognised centre for expertise on languages.

Further Information:

Laura Davies
External Relations Manager
Cardiff Business School
Cardiff University
Tel: 029 2087 5132
Mobile: 07709 450830
Email: Daviesle5@cardiff.ac.uk