In a study for the Council of Europe, Using Language Economics and Education Economics in Language Education Policy, François Grin points out that language knowledge has value. His studies show that individuals with language skills, provided that these are perceived as relevant to a company’s market, can earn more than those who do not have them; that the language profile of a company is a significant factor in its economic success; and that the degree of language knowledge in a country’s economy can be a positive or negative influence on its Gross National Product.
This is why languages are becoming more and more important for companies – from small businesses to multinationals – and they value, expect and also foster the language skills of their employees.
Enhancing employability is one of the central goals of education and language skills have an increasingly important role to play in achieving this goal. There is a clear need to make the lifelong learning of languages possible and effective by developing practical tools, methods and concepts to support young people and adults of all ages. In order to provide solutions to the various needs of employees, teachers and companies, a wide variety of approaches is required, all of which emphasize the positive potential of plurilingualism and its value in all walks of life.
In a globalized world in which language skills are essential we face a number of significant challenges:
- How can language learning in school – in addition to its contribution to quality education – equip learners to acquire the language skills they will need in their working lives?
- How can companies best organize language training to meet the changing needs of the market place?
- What contribution can new methods integrating online technologies and social media make and how can we create efficient learning environments which encourage learner autonomy as well as lively learning communities?
- How can we convince companies of the benefits, both for themselves and their employees, of a positive attitude towards plurilingualism and intercultural competences?
- What approaches can be developed to promote formal, non-formal and informal language learning?
- How do we implement quality assurance for language training in companies?
- What technological and human resources are available for traditional and non-traditional learning (e.g. volunteers working with migrants)?
How the ECML contributes to developing languages for work
The ECML has developed projects that focus on several of the issues mentioned above. The main projects targeting employment and languages in the Centre’s 2012-15 programme have been:
- Developing migrants’ language competences at work (Language for work)
The project is working towards the establishment of a European learning network for languages at work: it recognises that the task of equipping migrant employees in the workplace with appropriate language skills requires the cooperation of all the different stakeholders. A range of resources on the project website, will support researchers, learning providers, employers, trade unions and policy-makers to address the specific needs of migrant and ethnic minority employees in learning (including formal, non-formal and informal learning) the language of the host country.
- Languages in corporate quality (LINCQ)
As part of this project, a survey of companies and their attitudes to language skills in the workplace was carried out. It revealed that in many companies there was little awareness of the tools and resources available for promoting plurilingualism and language learning for professional purposes (e.g. European Language Portfolio, European Language Passport) and not much knowledge of how the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference could help employers select suitable staff and set targets for training. The aim of the project was to increase awareness of the development and assessment of language competences within the broad business community, in particular by encouraging companies to recognize plurilingualism as a significant element of the corporate quality.