Education news

Adults regret not making the most of language study

Most adults admit they never fully appreciated the benefits of learning a language at school

Two out of every three adults wish they had not let valuable language skills from their school days slip, a new survey has revealed.

The British Council found almost two thirds of adults admitted that they never fully appreciated the benefits of learning a language when they were at school.

A majority (53 per cent) said they regretted not making the most of studying languages when they had the chance.

The research, carried out by Populus among more than 2,000 adults in Britain and Northern Ireland, was commissioned by the British Council as part of its work to build relationships for the UK around the world through language, culture and education.

The results reflected the wider decline in language learning in recent years and while more than two-fifths of those surveyed had taken a qualification in a language from their school days, only 10 per cent had an A-level or equivalent.

More worryingly, only tiny numbers had studied Arabic (2 per cent) or Mandarin Chinese (2 per cent) at any level - considered two of the top five languages considered most vital for the UK's future.

While almost one in two confessed that they were embarrassed by their lack of language skills, 75 per cent of those surveyed had lost most of those skills within just one year of finishing school, rising to 85 per cent within two years.

Four in five of those who studied the most common languages - French and German - said they were not confident in using those languages now.

In Northern Ireland alone, more than 67 per cent said they wished they had not let language skills slip.

A total of 80 per cent admitted that they never fully appreciated the benefits of learning a language - dramatically more than the UK average of 65 per cent.

In addition, 74 per cent felt languages increased their confidence, 95 per cent saw languages as useful on holiday and 30 per cent said they wish that they had the chance to study a non-European language at school.

Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council, said employers were desperate for language skills.

"The UK's current shortage of them is estimated to be costing the country tens of billions in missed trade and business opportunities every year," she said.

"We need to encourage far more of our young people not just to develop their language skills whilst at school but to ensure that they keep them up in the future. The reality is that learning a language isn't just a rewarding way to connect with another culture but will boost job prospects too. We need to ensure the next generation doesn't have the same regrets when it comes to lost language skills but instead are able to connect, live and work with their counterparts around the globe."

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