Talking Your Way to Success; the UK Is Lagging Behind Its European Counterparts When It Comes to Speaking a Second Language. Kate Crockett Reports

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Byline: KATE CROCKETT

AS OUR economy becomes increasingly global and more trade is being done with Europe, it is a huge advantage for any potential employee to be able to speak a foreign language, or two or three."

This is the advice of Chris Letcher, managing director of Hobsons, who recently carried out extensive research into language skills among young Europeans. "If you look at the traditional large employer in London, they are almost certainly international, and are not just dealing with local clients, but with international ones. So, from an employer's point of view, a second language is valuable."

"As there is increased mobility of linguists within the EU, the heat is on for British language graduates to be as fluent as their European counterparts," says Christine Oldfield, manager of permanent recruitment at Bilinguagroup, which provides recruitment and translation services to businesses in Europe.

However, the Hobsons research shows that in the UK just over half of us speak more than one language, whereas 92 per cent of Italians and 90 per cent of Spaniards and Germans are fluent in another tongue.

The good news is that interest in language study is booming, with Spanish and French the two most requested subjects on the Learndirect advice line.

"Spanish is by far the most popular language," confirms Richard Avery, director of sales and marketing at Linguaphone.

"Followed by French, Italian, then German."

Solange Berchemin, curriculum leader for modern languages at Westminster Kingsway college, agrees: "Spanish is the language that nobody can get enough of." Berchemin says most people learning Spanish do so for pleasure, while other students opt for languages - such as Russian or Hindi - purely for the challenge. However, as Westminster Kingsway offers 13 languages with recognised accreditation from beginners up to Alevel, Berchemin also sees plenty of students who polish up or learn new language skills to progress their careers.

One such student is Iona Keen, 26, the creative project manager of Audioguides Ltd, a company which makes audio tours for museums, heritage sites and galleries such as Tate Modern. Keen already speaks fluent French and Spanish - which she uses at work - but she is also studying Portuguese in the evenings at Westminster Kingsway in order to boost her career further. "I wanted to learn another language as a hobby, but also for work, because the company is expanding and I am hoping that we will be producing tours in Portuguese," Keen explains. …