By Daniel Hunter

The Association of Translation Companies (ATC) has accused the government of disjointed thinking in its bid to win the ‘global race’ to economic recovery. The UK's continuing poor export figures compared to many other developed economies would be significantly improved with better language skills.

Geoffrey Bowden, ATC General Secretary speaking at start of the ATC’s Annual Conference in London said: "The latest figures show that the university intake for language courses has flat-lined over the previous five years. The problem from this has been two-fold. Firstly, a lack of specialist linguists means that the translation and interpreting professions struggle to meet business demand.

"Secondly, a lack of general language ability throughout the UK workforce makes even basic conversations between companies operating in different countries difficult. When it is realised that 61 per cent of the UK population only speak English, the significance of this problem becomes apparent.

"The problem is compounded by the fact that the greatest opportunities for export growth are in emerging markets - where languages not included in the mainstream curriculum are spoken."

Languages are important at every level within a company. While professionally qualified interpreters and translators will certainly be required when entering a new market, having competent language skills for staff that interact on a general day-by-day basis is also critical. This is where language education in the UK is falling down so drastically.

Geoffrey Bowden, of the ATC Continues: "The government does not see languages as part of their strategy to improve the trade deficit but it is common sense that, in reality, language should play a central role.

"We need to examine our language education holistically - starting with primary education and going through to post-graduate. Only when we view language skills in the context of how a person progresses through each stage, will we be able to get to a point where education really supports the growth of the UK economy through exports."

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