Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

Interventions

Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

Interventions

Article excerpt

Language competences for employability, mobility and growth

Michael Kelly

University of Southampton

In September 2012, the European Commission published a wide-ranging Communication: Rethinking Education: Investing in Skills for Better Socioeconomic Outcomes. The Communication emphasises the importance of education for economic progress:

Investment in education and training for skills development is essential to boost growth and competitiveness: skills determine Europe's capacity to increase productivity. In the long-term, skills can trigger innovation and growth, move production up the value chain, stimulate the concentration of higher level skills in the EU and shape the future labour market. The massive increase in the global supply of highly skilled people over the last decade puts Europe to the test. The time when competition came mainly from countries that could offer only low-skilled work has come to an end. The quality of education and supply of skills has increased worldwide and Europe must respond. (2012a: 2)

As part of the effort that Europe needs to make to address its skills shortages, the Commission indicates that languages are particularly important and need attention. It argues that

In a world of international exchanges, the ability to speak foreign languages is a factor for competitiveness. Languages are more and more important to increase levels of employability and mobility of young people, and poor language skills are a major obstacle to free movement of workers. Businesses also require the language skills needed to function in the global marketplace. (2022a: 5)

This argument is supported by a detailed Commission staff working document, which sets out the accompanying arguments and evidence (2012b). The following text reproduces the executive summary and the overall introduction to the document. It also includes a useful compendium of facts and figures that are appended to the document.

Executive summary for policymakers

Language competences are a key dimension of modernising European education systems, and this Staff Working Document is part of a larger policy initiative contributing to Europe 2020. It offers analysis and insight to support the Commission Communication on rethinking education (2012a).

Raising the language competences of children, young people and adults will foster the mobility of workers and students and improve the employability of the European workforce. Therefore, improved language competences will contribute to achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy of growth and jobs.

Language competences should be useful in real life and match, in particular, labour market needs. This applies for national and European labour markets, and the work of EU enterprises operating on an international scale. Poor language skills are a serious obstacle to seizing professional opportunities abroad and in enterprises or organisations active at the international level.

This SWD presents groundbreaking evidence. It draws on the new European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC), which assesses pupils' knowledge of the first and second foreign languages at the end of lower secondary education. It provides, for the first time ever, empirical evidence on the ability of young Europeans to communicate across borders, their attitudes, expectations and exposure to foreign languages, as well as teaching methods and approaches in this field. The SWD uses, in addition, the outcome of a special Eurobarometer on languages and the 2012 edition of EACEA/Eurydice's Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe.

The key findings are:

1. The outcome of foreign language learning in Europe is poor: only four in ten pupils reach the 'independent user' level in the first foreign language, indicating an ability to have a simple conversation. Only one-quarter attains this level in the second foreign language. Too many pupils - 14% for the first language and 20% for the second - do not reach the 'basic user' level which means that they are not able to use very simple language, even with support. …

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