An emphasis on language

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It falls the way of most logisticians that their working lives are filled with meetings of every kind. I am no exception and, even as I write, have just returned home after a round of meetings addressing both European policy issues and the running of the Association.

In one of these meetings, as we wrestled with the intricacies of a legal document translated from one European language to another, I could not help but recall the number of times in the past year colleagues have voiced their concern that linguistic skills are receiving insufficient priority in Europe and, more importantly, are getting progressively less attention. If this is true, whilst not a strictly supply chain matter, the implications for the European logistics industry are serious.

The evidence is anecdotal but given the importance of languages in Europe, we would be ill-advised to ignore it.

What are the effects of poor language skills? They slow down business, complicate cooperation and stifle talent. I bet we can all cite an example of an individual who was perfect to enhance the team but didn’t have the right linguistic skills to play a full part. What a waste.

All this being said, there are no statistics to prove whether less priority is being given to language training or not. In fact, in European countries where necessity remains a driver, the evidence suggests priority isn’t falling. But elsewhere the profile of the issue seems to be declining, with a number of education policy adjustments taking place – in one instance making it a matter of choice to study a foreign  language beyond 14. Equally, there is not much evidence of the inclusion of non-European languages such as Chinese in the timetables of European schools.

While some argue you can pick up other languages in later life this is not a satisfactory solution, especially if it can be avoided. Common sense tells us that we are already pressed enough after leaving school meeting the demands of learning the skills needed to do our jobs.

Education is not always the most riveting of subjects but we should not underestimate its importance in preparing our citizens to play a role in society. There are some worrying signs that, in the case of language training, things are going off course.

Graham A Ewer CB CBE , President ELA

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