Few native speakers of English speak a foreign language well, whereas non-native speakers often have an excellent command of the English language. FT columnist Michael Skapinker writes that both groups are responding to incentives.
The CBI, the UK’s leading employers’ body, … [is] alarmed: “The UK has the worst foreign language skills in Europe, and there is a strong argument that limited language abilities and cultural awareness are acting in effect as a tax on UK trade.” ….
The CBI found UK employers were most anxious to recruit German and French speakers. Well, they could just do so. There are thousands of young Germans and French people who speak excellent English, have the right to work in the UK and would probably welcome the opportunity.
Similarly, if Australian employers need Chinese language speakers, they have a large pool of immigrant families living right there.
For non-English speakers, the benefits of learning English are huge. For English speakers, the reward for the massive effort of learning another language is not obvious. If employers really are that desperate for language skills, they should pay a premium to those who have them. Young English speakers would respond. They may be monolingual, but they’re not stupid.
Michael Skapinker, “Raise the reward for learning a language“, Financial Times, 6 September 2012.