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Under-investment in language learning costs UK business billions

02 Hydref 2007

The UK is missing out on a minimum of £9 billion a year through its lack of investment in language learning, according to Business School research.

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."