Maddie Grounds explores the future of multilingualism in the UK after Brexit

Since the 2017 EU referendum, discomforts surrounding Britain’s multiculturalism have continued to surface in Brexit’s ‘leave’ campaign. Nigel Farage controversially exclaiming that he felt ‘awkward’ sitting on a train with non-English speaking passengers spoke volumes about the anti-immigration tone that underpins current political discussions. Yet, wishing away modern-day multilingualism would be disastrous for the education sector post-Brexit with Modern Foreign Language Teaching set to face hard-hitting impacts in the UK.

“80% of Modern Foreign Language teaching assistants are from the EU”

With May’s post-Brexit immigration plans setting out the end of freedom of movement, EU nationals will no longer have the automatic right to work and live in the UK. Removing the ease in which European teachers can travel across UK-EU borders will cause significant gaps in the Modern Foreign Language teaching workforce, 30% of whom are EU nationals. Additionally, a huge 80% of Modern Foreign Language teaching assistants are from the EU.

Despite the government assuring EU nationals in the UK that they have a right to remain, these citizens may not have the qualifications needed to teach languages at a professional level.  As an endangered subject prior to the EU referendum, ensuring the sustainability of Modern Foreign Languages is reliant on EU nationals providing the teaching skills needed to assist our own domestic talent pool. Currently, the Tier 2 Visa system has a minimum income requirement of £30,000. With May’s Chequer Plan revealing plans to prioritise skilled workers, predominantly those earning £50,000 and above, reaching this threshold for further education teachers could be ultimately unachievable.

Language skills can be a fundamental part of a company’s business plan looking to break into the international market with multi-lingual employers being highly sought after in Europe. One study has shown that knowing German can improve a UK graduates’ average salary to £34,534, a £4,500 increase from the national average.

“37% of British students are ‘unable to hold a basic conversation’ in another language”

Despite this, language graduates in the UK come up lowest in post-education employment statistics, below arts, humanities, and law. One belief behind this is that employers more than often opt for native speakers whose language skills continue to prevail over British learners.

Furthermore, the number of multi-lingual students is significantly higher in the rest of the EU. A survey conducted last year by the British Council revealed that 37% of students asked were ‘unable to hold a basic conversation’ compared with 51% of students in the rest of the EU who ‘are studying two or more languages’.

Costly visa requirements are only set to become another barrier to businesses as many UK companies, especially SMEs, may not be able to substantiate the costs to apply for a Sponsor Licence. With the COO of language learning app Lingvist stating that ‘the UK is already losing £50bn a year due to poor language skills’, addressing this loss should be a priority within the business and education sectors in order to retain Britain’s global citizenship and trade relations.

Increasing language demands for British citizens could have a positive outcome for Britain’s multilingualism as many people will look to retrain and fill skill gaps left by the current EU workforce. For this reason, further education in Modern Foreign Languages could increase in popularity following Brexit day next March. In order to achieve this, a post-Brexit Britain will have to focus on the training of domestic workers in more vocational roles within the teaching of Modern Foreign Languages.

Yet with many attitudes towards Brexit showing a lack of incentive to learn foreign languages, this is easier said than done. Last year, German and French A-level intake decreased by 4% and 1.2%, a decline which has led to some schools cutting these language programs entirely. Similarly, universities have seen a near-25% drop in interest in modern foreign languages courses. With reports of pupils stating that they no longer need to attend foreign language lessons once Britain has left the EU, this sets a worrying precedent for the future of Modern Foreign Languages.

“15% of EU businesses with staff in the UK are likely to move them outside of Britain after Brexit”

Irrespective of Britain’s need to increase language learning, translation services will be more critical than ever. With a predicted 15% of EU businesses with staff in the UK likely to move them outside of Britain, it will not take long for companies to feel the force of language barriers, with additional translation services being the only feasible option in tackling this. Hiring expert legal translation services to ensure the understanding of documents and contracts will be essential.

The Department of Education states that ‘learning a foreign language is a liberation from insularity and provides an opening to other cultures’. Preserving Britain’s multilingualism through Modern Foreign Language teaching is therefore crucial in the UK’s relationship with the EU across many industries and businesses. With the importance of Modern Foreign Languages massively increasing post-Brexit, the UK government needs to focus on filling classrooms with those that can actually teach it.