Language skills - Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

British students wanting to get ahead in the world of work should be studying an additional language.

17 January 2023

2 min read

New research from the University of Portsmouth, based on the analysis of job adverts targeted at graduates, shows a high demand for language skills that are now often unmet in secondary school settings. 

Dr Begoña Rodríguez de Céspedes is a Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Portsmouth and an Executive Committee member of the University Council of Modern Languages. Amidst concerns that secondary schools are often dropping a requirement to study foreign languages, she has been looking at the needs of employers to find candidates with suitable skills.

Her research shows there are hundreds of jobs listed for graduates where an additional language is required. German is the most requested, closely followed by French. Across a one-month period in the summer of 2022, Dr Rodríguez de Céspedes monitored UK job adverts in a wide range of employment fields.  The time frame reflected the period when many graduates apply for work. A job was listed in the data only if the post listed a second language as required or essential, rather than simply as desirable, preferred, or advantageous. 

This new study comes as the UK Government announces £14.9 million of new funding to expand a ‘language hubs’ scheme, which is designed to increase the uptake and quality of language teaching for 14-18-year-olds. It is putting a specific focus on increasing the number of students who study German, a decision that is backed up by this latest research from the University of Portsmouth. 

In total 619 jobs were discovered on a multitude of websites requiring mastery of languages as the main requisite, of which 237 requested German, 208 wanted French, 96 listed Spanish and 71 asked for a candidate to speak Italian. The research also looked at which sectors were making these requests. It found Customer Service, Customer Support & Call Centre was the highest area of demand, accounting for 171 adverts. This was followed by Sales, Account Management & Business Development which made 120 requests for additional language skills. 

Dr Rodríguez de Céspedes says “It is clear that employers are crying out for job candidates to speak additional languages, with the government also recognising the crisis that has developed due to a big fall in the number of students studying them. Our research has shown that across multiple employment sectors, an additional language isn’t just desirable it is essential. Students wanting to get ahead in the world of work should be studying an additional language to give themselves the opportunity of being qualified for hundreds of jobs”.

New funding has now been made available for a second phase of the research. Dr Rodríguez de Céspedes will focus on the action being taken by those on the frontline of language services in the UK, including policymakers, government, and industry.