Modern foreign languages (MFL) are still taught in schools, but they are no longer part of the compulsory GCSEs that students must take, which means that from the age of 14 many children stop learning languages. We recently published a post which looks at the benefits of learning a second language, and one of the key benefits was the edge that it gives you in gaining employment.
In today's global market, more and more companies are seeking to deal with clients and businesses overseas, but a lack of multilingual employees holds them back. If you speak a second language you are likely to be very desirable to an employer.
If you're considering learning a second language, here are five that are widely spoken, fairly easy to learn, and will likely open up a variety of job options for you...
One of the romance languages, Portuguese is the seventh most spoken language in the world. It is spoken in, in descending order of native speakers, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal (obviously!), Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Macau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe by over 262 million people.
Brazil is now the world's sixth largest economy, ahead of the UK, and with the 2016 Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro this summer, all eyes are on Brazil. Many native Brazilians speak English poorly or not at all, so the ability to speak Portuguese will make you desirable to any employer who is looking to tap into this growing economic market.
The language is closely related to Spanish, and has similarities with French and Italian which are also romantic languages, so it is fairly easy to learn. Around 600 hours (less than 6 months) of classroom time should lead to a decent level of proficiency.
With 406 million native speakers worldwide, Spanish is the key to communicating effectively with Spain (of course) as well as most of the Latin American countries and even the USA, where it is the second most spoken language after English. According to a survey carried out by the British Council, more than a third of UK businesses said that Spanish-speaking employees were useful to their organisation.
Spanish is one of the romance languages and is fairly easy to learn; in fact, when you start to learn it you'll probably realise that you already know more than you thought thanks to its wide use in the media. Similar to Portuguese, you should expect to be proficient in Spanish after around 600 classroom hours.
Germany is Europe's largest economy, and continues to defy the general downturn of the eurozone with a GDP of more than €2.4 trillion. The language may only have 110 million native speakers, but for UK businesses it's a very valuable language to be able to communicate in. In fact, almost half of all UK companies surveyed by the British Council felt that German was useful to their business operations.
German is fairly easy to learn as many of the verbs and adjectives are pretty self-explanatory, but the grammar can be a bit tricky. Many people find that they achieve a decent level of proficiency after 900 classroom hours, or just over six months. The time investment is worth it though as the ability to confidently communicate in German will make you stand out from other candidates.
French is one of the most popular modern languages taught in schools, but since the compulsory GCSE in MFL was made optional fewer people have been carrying it through to their adult lives. However, French remains one of the most sought-after languages by employers, with almost half of all UK companies who were surveyed citing it as a useful skill for their organisations.
There are around 74 million native speakers of French worldwide, and it is the official language of France (not surprisingly), Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Madagascar, and various African countries. Whilst it may not be as globally prevalent as languages like Spanish and Portuguese, the fact remains that France is still one of the UK's most important trade partners so it is definitely worth taking the time to learn it or brush up on your old skills.
There are 155 native speakers of Russian throughout the world, making it the eighth most commonly spoken language. Although there are some parts of Russia experiencing poverty, there are also many areas full of wealthy people who are on the lookout for new business and investment opportunities. If you speak Russian you can be a valuable asset to a company who are looking to expand.
The UK's relations with Russia haven't exactly been great since the end of the Cold War, but according to the Government's Trade and Investment website it is now the fastest-growing export market. If more English people can learn to speak Russian it will surely pave the way for much smoother relations between our two countries in the future.
Having a different alphabet system makes Russian rather hard to learn, and you should expect to put in around 1100 classroom hours, or around 44 weeks before you reach a decent level of proficiency. However, it's definitely worth the challenge as it will make you super-desirable to employers!