When Monolingual Makes Sense

If you were under the impression that academics know what’s best for business when it comes to the issue of language, then think again says the Financial Times

State examination results in the UK show that young people are running for the door when it comes to opting for languages in school, and the business sector supports them:


A survey of leading companies last year by the Association of Graduate Recruiters found the law firms, banks and consumer goods groups involved were more interested in graduates able to work as a team and solve problems. Of the 19 skills surveyed, competence in a foreign tongue was the only one employers deemed unimportant.

This conflicts with the well-worn adage that “foreign” language options in high school and college should always be mandatory and that we all need them, especially if a career in business is desired. And the kicker:

Business knows that if it needs people fluent in both English and Mandarin it will find no shortage in China.

Two points:

1) One of the main drivers for Foreign Direct Investment in Ireland since 1957 has not been the workforce’s proficiency in French, Spanish, or German, but the fact that Irish people spoke English (there are others factors too – check out John O’Hagan’s Economy of Ireland if you are interested). Now, that competitive edge is gone as English becomes a commonly spoken language amongst Europe’s young people in the ever-expanding EU.

2) It justifies my argument for removing the language requirement we often see as “mandatory” or “preferred” for localization project management jobs. Why this obsession with language proficiency for PMs? They’d be better off understanding how technology deals with language if any real value-add is the true goal of this function.

The Irish Government’s concern about Irish students’ lack of interest in technology courses would seem to bear out the UK business argument too.

When it comes to deciding on language options in education, economics should be the main driver.

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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