Language skills are good
for business

8 Jun 2005

While there is no current evidence of a shortage of language skills, language teaching in schools should be reviewed to ensure the future skills requirements of the Irish economy are fully met, a new report has recommended.

Launched today by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), The Languages and Enterprise report considers the role of languages skills in Ireland’s future enterprise development. It concludes that foreign language skills will be important to the future health of Irish enterprise, with any deficit in this area resulting in firms falling short of their full potential.

The report highlights the fact that current range of languages being studied in publicly funded schools, which is dominated by French at post-primary level, has arisen in an ad-hoc manner and owes more to historical factors than any analysis of the needs of learners and the State.

In 2004 the breakdown of all foreign language papers taken in the Leaving Certificate was French: 75pc, German: 20pc, Spanish: 4pc and Italian: 0.5pc. “This language profile has not been aligned with that of the foreign markets offering the most potential for the future,” the report states.

The document makes several key recommendations with regard to language teaching. Firstly, a national languages policy should be formulated by the Department of Education and Science, in collaboration with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, to provide an integrated and coherent approach to language education. Second, the Modern Languages in Primary Schools pilot programme should be integrated into the mainstream curriculum and made available to all primary schools. Lastly, The Post-Primary Languages Initiative should also be expanded and the existing language provision at post-primary level should be reviewed in the light of the lessons learnt, to increase the quality and value of the language learning experience for students.

The report considers the importance of foreign language skills for two key sectors of the Irish economy, namely exporting indigenous firms and foreign-owned firms engaged in international service activities.

It finds that many indigenous firms do value language skills highly. This may be a chicken-and-egg scenario where SMEs do not export to foreign language markets because they do not have language skills, and conversely they do not invest in language training because they are not exporting to those markets. In the internationally traded services sector, the ability to effectively communication with customers is at the heart of service provision and the availability of language skills will increase Ireland’s attractiveness to foreign multinationals wishing to establish such activities.

Other recommendations in the report are that the foreign language skills created by immigration into Ireland should be seen as a valuable resource to be tapped and that IBEC and Enterprise Ireland should build on the success of the Export Orientation Programme and consider how it might be expanded.

“If we neglect to ensure adequate availability of foreign language skills in Ireland, the opportunities of the global market will not be realised,” commented Anne Heraty, chairwoman of the EGFSN. “We must also continue to develop our foreign language skills to ensure that we are not at a competitive disadvantage in terms of our ability to attract foreign direct investment of the future.”

By Brian Skelly