The role of languages has been one of the biggest bones of contention in the 14-19 reforms. Ministers have made them voluntary at 14 as they have sought to free up time for vocational education, leading many to fear that languages will be marginalised.
Now one of the country's first "pathfinder" projects, to pilot ways of delivering 14-19 education is trying to reconcile the twin aims of building practical and linguistic skills.
The Black Country pathfinder has been set up for a year with a pound;500,000 budget, with the needs of the manufacturers that dominate the West Midlands in mind. Language skills are vital to such firms as they try to seel product abroad.
Julie Cosgrove, of Black Country learning and skills council, which is leading the project, said a survey had found 20 per cent of local firms believed a lack of linguistic skills among workers cost them business.
The project will see 14 to 16-year-olds using languages during work placements. Employers will be encouraged to include language learning in modern apprenticeships. Ms Cosgrove said: "Young people might be using their language skills, with support, on a switchboard, say, or on the net."
Language teachers will be encouraged to sign up for training in companies, returning to show pupils how linguistic skills can be used in commercial settings. The project will also incorporate widely-spoken ethnic minority languages such as Punjabi or Urdu.
Ms Cosgrove said that a school might, for example, become a centre of excellence in Punjabi, then deliver lessons by video-link to students in several other schools.
The project involves more than 80 secondaries and seven colleges across Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Car giant Peugeot is likely to be a major partner.
Ms Cosgrove said both employers and young people would gain. "Students will be less likely to drop languages, and become more attractive to their employers. And it stands to give businesses more of the language skills they are crying out for."