The UK has excellent linguists. As we wrote in our letter published in The Times on 31 December 2020, what follows Erasmus+ needs to give us more.
Many will mourn the UK’s exit from Erasmus, not least the CIOL linguists whose time in other countries transformed their languages and lives. What follows should be ambitious, global and have languages at its heart, as we wrote to the Editor of The Times on 31 December 2020.
English opens doors worldwide, but on its own it isn’t enough to build business behind the trade deals, deepen crucial research collaborations between universities and other innovators or foster the creative and cultural exchange which drives the UK’s knowledge economy. The UK has excellent linguists; the UK Government’s proposed Turing scheme needs to give us more.
The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) welcomes the UK Government’s announcement that thousands of students will be able to study and do work placements across the world through the brand new Turing scheme, which replaces the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ starting in September 2021.
If the UK is to reap the fullest rewards from the investment in Turing, we need to boost UK students’ practical language skills, which CIOL predicts will be in much greater demand for businesses and other employers post-Brexit. The UK needs linguists for its security, diplomacy and defence, as well as young people with the cultural appreciation which comes from living, studying and working in other languages and in other countries to support the UK’s rich creative and knowledge economy.
The British Council’s Languages for the Future report identified the ‘top five’ languages most needed in the UK post-Brexit, namely: Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic and German. These are the same five languages cited by businesses in the most recent CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey.
The Turing scheme needs to make sure study in the major European languages continues, with Spanish particularly important for the Americas. New Turing study links could usefully target Mandarin and Arabic.
However, Turing shouldn’t stop there. CIOL offers Ofqual regulated language qualifications up to Master’s Level in over 50 world languages and our 7000+ members speak many more: from European languages to those of Central, South and South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa – the UK needs all these languages.
Turing links could and should have both study and developing competence in listening, speaking, reading and writing in many more world languages at their very heart.
Demonstrable competence in languages should be a clear objective for the Turing scheme, ideally backed by measurement of progress, language testing and clear and ambitious targets for the levels and numbers of linguists by language that the UK needs to meet its trade, defence, diplomatic, development, creative and cultural goals around the world, as well as to support local communities and public services across the UK.
As CIOL has said, the new Turing scheme should be ambitious, global and have languages at its heart – but it also needs clear-headed goals, a framework of measurement and aptitude testing and to be part of a long-term national strategy to develop and promote the linguists and languages the UK needs for our prosperity, security and international standing.