What did the German scientist say to the French engineer?…No one knew because they couldn’t understand each other.
Ivanka Trump’s visit to a fifth grade classroom in Middleburg comes on the back of a pledge by Donald Trump to invest upwards of $200 million into STEM education – mainly computer science, in American schools. This move has been supported by large enterprises through the country as coding has become one of the most sought after skills by employers. However, this shift towards STEM subjects has sparked a debate as to what subjects will be squeezed out of a classroom curriculum to make room for more technologically focused teaching.
A similar move by the British Government found that foreign language learning has become an increasingly unpopular choice for students sitting the GCSEs. The emphasis placed by the government on STEM subjects has meant that fewer Britons can now speak a second language. Graduates of these subjects may hold computer science and engineering degrees but are unable to communicate with their foreign counterparts on a range of subjects.
This led the English government to launch a campaign in 2016 entitled #learnalanguage to encourage more young people to continue with their language studies. The driving factors behind this campaign are economically charged. Highly skilled graduates are unable to work in many positions as they are unable to communicate with their European and worldwide counterparts. Job positions are not being filled as a result and consequently costing the English economy up to £48 billion every year.
Britain and America’s admiration for STEM subjects is reflective of superficial employment trends. However, many fail to realise that if a global company does not have the correct language capabilities, communication and growth is ultimately stunted. Although America may not feel these effects imminently, Britain is facing a severe crisis. As the isolating repercussions of Brexit come into effect, so too will the harsh reality that speaking one language is not enough. Poor conversational language skills are not sufficient to speak to a work colleague about machine learning algorithms or natural language processing. Without language skills, Britain’s isolation will reach far beyond leaving the EU.
France is beginning to feel the effects of their movement away from English language learning. 55% of 20-45 year olds in France felt that their lack of English skills was directly affecting their employment prospects. This is reflective of the underlying issues surrounding employment. The job postings in America calling for bilingual employees have trebled in the last 5 years. Catalysts for language learning have moved from a place of personal development to a career furthering necessity.
Governments have a duty to put directives in place that will benefit their economy. As a result, they need to understand the underlying need for bilingualism in a globalised economy. Training hundreds of thousands of children in code is an admirable feat that should be at the forefront of any governmental policy. However, an American computer science graduate is stunted if they cannot speak to their Spanish counterparts. It is vital that STEM subjects do not rail road and overtake the education of languages.