School students should be made to study a language up to AS level to ensure the next generation of global business leaders, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
A BCC survey of 8,000 businesspeople finds that 61 per cent of non-exporters likely to consider trading internationally consider a lack of language skills as a barrier to doing so.
But of those business owners claiming some language knowledge, very few can speak well enough to conduct deals in international markets, the survey adds.
French is the most commonly spoken language, with 73 per cent of business owners claiming some knowledge. However, only 4 per cent are able to converse fluently enough in French to conduct business deals.
This number drops significantly for those languages spoken in the fastest growing markets.
The number of pupils taking French and German GCSE has more than halved in the last 16 years. Language study is no longer compulsory at GCSE level, stopping for pupils at the age of 14.
Last summer, 154,221 pupils took French – by contrast, 350,027 did in 1995. And some 60,887 students took German GCSE in 2011, compared with 129,386 in 1995.
Providing compulsory education in languages for young people will transform many of the great businesses we have in the UK. John Longworth, BCC
In 2012, the International Monetary Fund projects that the Chinese economy will grow by 9.5 per cent, but just 4 per cent of business owners claim any knowledge of the language.
John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:
“A renewed focus on language skills at school, as well as helping companies forge new connections overseas, could help ensure that current and future business owners are pre-disposed to thinking internationally.
“We are already the sixth largest trading nation on earth, and the third largest service exporter, but to really secure our future as a leading exporter we need to help companies take advantage of new markets.
“Giving businesses the opportunity to forge links with international firms, develop employees’ language skills, and providing compulsory education in languages for young people will transform many of the great businesses we have in the UK into success stories overseas.”