Arabic language vital for post-Brexit, says new study


Saudi Gazette

– Arabic is one of the top languages Britain will need once it leaves the European Union, according to new analysis by the British Council that works to build relationships for the UK around the world through education and culture.

‘Languages for the Future’ identifies Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic and German as the top five languages for Britain’s prosperity once the country leaves the European Union, based on extensive analysis of economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational factors.

The top five are significantly ahead of the next five languages in the ranking, namely Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Russian.

“Languages are invaluable for a generation growing up in an increasingly connected world”, says Mahmoud Mouselli, head of programs for the British Council in Saudi Arabia. “If the UK is to be truly global post-Brexit, languages must become a national priority.”

“There are few more important languages for the UK's future prosperity than the likes of Arabic,” he further said. “For example, over 6,000 UK companies actively export to Saudi Arabia, and the UK is the second largest cumulative investor in the Kingdom after the US. Improved Arabic language capacity will go a long way to maintain and grow the connections between UK and Saudi business."

The report revealed that GCC countries featured on the list of the UK’s top ten non-English speaking export markets with exports of goods and services worth nearly £16 billion last year. The number of businesses citing Arabic as important to their business has increased from 19 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2017, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

Currently, research has shown that only 2 percent of British youth aged 18-34 can hold a basic conversation in Arabic, while 14 percent in French, 8 percent in German, 7 percent in Spanish and 2 percent in Mandarin.

A third of Britons can hold a conversation in another language besides their mother tongue.

“At a time when global connections matter more than ever, it is worrying that the UK is facing a languages deficit,” says Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council. “We cannot afford the apathy around the need for languages to continue and must champion these skills. If we don’t act to tackle this shortfall, we’re set to lose out both economically and culturally.”

The lack of language skills could cost the UK almost £50 billion, or SR251 billion, a year. This comes at a time when Brexit puts pressure on the UK to boost trade relations beyond Europe.

Language learning in schools in the UK is in the decline as the number of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking GCSE language exams in the past year have seen a 7.3 percent drop.

Investment in upgrading the nation’s language skills is vital if the UK is to remain a globally connected nation, the report stated, calling for a “bold new policy” which should be cross-government, cross-party and focused on sustaining improvement in language capacity over the medium to long-term.

It also suggests that government and businesses should provide better advice to companies on using and managing language skills to support export-led growth.

The British Chambers of Commerce has called for language teaching to become compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16 to “help entrepreneurs become more globally-minded” and remove barriers to exporting.