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Young jobseekers caught in the language trap

The economic crisis in Southern Europe has hit graduates hard, with youth unemployment rates close to 50 per cent in some countries. It’s hardly surprising that many are thinking of emigrating to countries such as Germany, where there’s a high demand for skilled workers.

Doctors, nurses, engineers, and IT specialists would all get a warm welcome in Germany, as low birth rates have created gaps in the labour market. But there’s one problem for many qualified Spanish and Italian graduates – a lack of language skills.

One of the main benefits of the European Union is that citizens can travel and work freely in member countries. But a recent study has found that linguistic skills are the main barrier preventing this from becoming a reality. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only 3 percent of working-age citizens live in a fellow EU country.

Only 54 per cent of Europeans are confident holding a conversation in a foreign language, according to one large study. This comes a decade after European leaders called for all children to learn two foreign languages from an early age.

And when Spanish, Italian, and Greek students do study a language it’s often English. This might be an unofficial lingua franca of Europe. But there are more opportunities for skilled workers in Germany, as the UK struggles with a sluggish economy. Most of these jobs require a fluent knowledge of German, as well as specialist vocabulary in many cases.

Not surprisingly, there’s been a stampede of people enrolling for German classes at the Goethe Institute in crisis-hit countries. The organisation reported a 50 per cent boost in student numbers in Greece, and a 30 per cent rise in Italy. And increasingly, more graduates are moving to the country to find work.

Even if you’re not planning to emigrate, there’s no doubt linguistic skills can give you an edge in the jobs market. The QS Global Employer Survey Report 2011 found languages were one of the most highly-valued skills by employers.

And in an increasingly global economy, more of us work with people from other countries in our daily lives. The British Council recently raised concerns about the decline of language teaching in the UK, warning it could lead to businesses missing out in the export market.

There’s clearly a need for more investment in teaching across Europe, to ensure jobseekers and businesses aren’t caught in the language trap.

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Hazel Mollison

Hazel Mollison edits and writes for the Lingo24 blog. After studying Italian and German at Cambridge University, she worked as a journalist for five years with regional and national newspapers. She enjoys writing about languages, translation, online marketing, and helping small businesses explore new opportunities.

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