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Loss of languages hits job prospects

Vocational training is producing a generation of people who are skilled for work but unable to speak foreign languages.

Fewer than half of further education colleges offer students the chance to study languages alongside a vocatational course, according to researchers, and the number that do is steadily declining.

Less than 1 per cent of vocational students take a language.

The study by the National Centre for Languages shows that 36 per cent of colleges had previously offered languages as an extra but no longer do so.

Its report - Language trends 2006 - shows that where they are offered, languages tend to be alongside tourism and business- related courses, but rarely in other vocational areas.

According to the report, British applicants for jobs are being turned down in favour of foreigners - even in the UK - because they can not communicate with colleagues and suppliers in the EU and beyond, or with visitors from abroad.

The report said: "The reduced language provision in FE, suggested by the findings, contrasts with the growing evidence of the need for languages at all levels and in a wide range of sectors in the workplace. Languages are also important to the students' general learning and development, helping them to broaden their horizons and increase their understanding of the wider world."

Spanish is the most popular language, followed by French, Italian and German.

Researchers also found that the increasing requirement on colleges to charge fees for post-19 education, while not reducing the number of enrolments overall, has hit languages, which are more likely to be seen as an optional extra rather than an important skill for employment.

The findings are based on responses from 139 of the 296 general FE colleges in the UK.

Research by the Learning and Skills Development Agency last year found many colleges blamed the lack of language courses on the funding system operated by the Learning and Skills Council, which is biased towards self-contained qualifications.

Languages are less likely to be funded unless they are "embedded" as part of the main course.

The popularity of Spanish is thought to be down to the fact that tourism students are more likely to be dealing with clients going to that country than any other when they move into jobs. There were 35.4 million flights to Spain from the UK in 2005 - more than for any other country.

Also, Spanish tutors are more easily available in the UK than those from other countries.

While these figures may be compelling, both for students choosing a language and colleges planning courses, the emergence of eastern economies could leave the UK even less well-equipped.

The sector skills council for tourism, which represents employers in workforce development, says there will be an increasing need for Chinese and Russian, both of which are almost nonexistent in FE.

The report concludes: "Languages will not flourish in FE as an optional extra. In order to reverse the decline, language learning needs to be strongly promoted, properly funded and given a high priority for development within the 14 to 19 specialist diplomas."

Targets miss the mark, 8

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