'Speak a foreign language and secure a job here'

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Businesswoman spells out why linguistic skills could be the key to success

The ability to speak foreign languages is not only important in finding work abroad - it is becoming ever more crucial for getting a job in Scotland.

That was one of the most compelling messages from businesswoman Rebecca Trengove, guest speaker at a languages conference in Stirling.

Ms Trengove, head of marketing and corporate affairs at Dundee-based Axeon, Europe's largest independent manufacturer of lithium-ion battery systems, said her company had recruited people from China, Spain, Italy and France because they offered language skills as well as technical proficiency.

"These people are bringing skills to our country that we don't find in Scottish youngsters," she told the Scottish government conference on Language Learning in Scotland: A 1+2 Approach - From Policy to Practice.

Companies were becoming "increasingly international" and languages were in high demand; Axeon had based customer services in Poland because there were "far more people who speak languages there".

For the UK, Europe was a far bigger export market than the USA, said Ms Trengove, who went to school in Aberdeen. And English was not enough, because the ability to sell to people depended on good relationships - and relationships were more easily built when the seller could converse in the buyer's language.

"People tend to sell to people with whom they feel comfortable," said Ms Trengove, whose assessment of her home nation was blunt: "We do not as a nation have the languages skills that we need to be able to do business.

"Languages have unquestionably been the foundation of my career," said Ms Trengove, whose proficiency in Russian - she also studied French and German - helped her secure work after graduating from the University of St Andrews in 1989.

She believes that children are "sometimes steered away from doing hard subjects" by schools, but that the perceived difficulty of learning languages should be turned into a selling point.

"As employers, we value qualifications in hard subjects," she said.

Meanwhile, Alasdair Allan, the learning, sciences and languages minister, has underlined the importance of introducing language learning from P1.

This would "help transform the languages landscape in Scotland", he said in a summary of the government's response to the national languages working group's recommendation of a "1+2" approach. This is the idea that pupils should learn two languages in addition to their native tongue - an approach that Rebecca Trengove "warmly endorsed".

Dr Allan added that the government would continue to fund the country's programme for bringing foreign language assistants into Scottish schools. Their numbers have dropped sharply in recent years, although there was a modest increase for 2012-13.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk

NINE TRIAL PROJECTS THAT SOUND GOOD

The Scottish government has identified nine trial projects following the publication earlier this year of the report Language Learning in Scotland: A 1+2 Approach.

An extra #163;120,000 has been provided by the government to fund projects in 2012-13, which will demonstrate ways in which schools can move to the 1+2 model.

The schools involved are: Tough Primary, Aberdeenshire; Hillside Primary, Dundee; Lochyside Primary, Highland; Langlands Primary, Angus; St Elizabeth's Primary, South Lanarkshire; Dalmarnock Primary, Glasgow; Anderson High, Shetland; St. Modan's High, Stirling; and Madras College, Fife.

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