By Nadeem Badshah
MULTI-LINGUAL British Asians have been urged to use their skills more to get ahead in the jobs market after Brexit.
People who can speak their mother tongue have been encouraged to mention it in interviews and on their CV as the UK looks set to forge closer links with countries such as India and Pakistan when it leaves the European Union on October 31.
Experts say businesses, schools and the NHS are among the sectors which will need those who speak languages including Urdu, Punjabi, and Bengali.
A recent study by the European Commission showed that Britons have the lowest uptake to learn a language in Europe.
Only two per cent of Britons can read and write in two foreign languages, compared to 84 per cent in Luxembourg. And the number of pupils studying a foreign language at A-level is down by a third in the past ten years.
Dr Rami Ranger CBE, founder of the Sun Mark brand, said language should be used to develop customers and friends.
He told Eastern Eye: “I agree that with globalisation where we are trading all over the world our ability to communicate in different language has become an asset.
“Our company markets products in over 100 countries as a result, we employ staff able to communicate with customers in their native languages.
“This helps develop better relationships and also increases understanding of each other’s business. We have staff who speak Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Singhalese and, of course, English, French, and Spanish.
“These days we find Indians settled all over the world and many are doing businesses. By communicating in a common language, we help develop a better trust with them.”
A study by the British Council in 2018 said there was a decline in the number of students taking Urdu at GCSE level. Some four per cent of state schools and two per cent of independent schools offer Urdu at GCSE level.
A report to UK Trade & Investment in 2014 estimated that our language skills deficit currently costs the UK £48 billion from lost contracts and vacant roles.
Jaffer Kapasi OBE, from the East Midlands Chamber in Leicester, said his son secured a job with a Japanese company after sending his application in both English and Japanese.
Kapasi told Eastern Eye: “We trade globally and in light of Brexit business with the Commonwealth is set increase multi fold. This is where multilinguist skills will become far more important and emphasis will need to made for us to retain this.
“I have seen many Asians who speak four or five languages; the young generation communicate with their elders in their mother tongue. And I’ve come across businesses who give priority to sellers who speak their own language and who share that linguistic bond.”
Wendy Ayres-Bennett is professor of French philology and linguistics at the University of Cambridge and principal investigator of its project Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Society.
She said: “The Confederation of British Industry reports the need in business for the same five top languages, which include Arabic and Mandarin.
“Similarly, the British Academy’s Born Global report highlighted the importance of those with language skills for business, not just for their linguistic abilities, but also for their cultural agility. These skills are likely to become ever more necessary once we leave the EU.”
Arjun Neil Alim, a writer who can speak German, French and Dutch, said learning and practising a mother tongue is important culturally and can also provide health benefits.
He said: “Language learning has been shown to improve cognitive performance and memory. Moreover, studying a second language is the best way to understand one’s mother tongue.
“To be proficient in another language is to have a window into new worlds. It has practical and economic benefits, not least for a country that has such profound links with the rest of the world.
“The simple pleasure of addressing someone in their mother tongue is priceless.”