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Lack of language skills = loss of jobs

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Many of you will by now have read the story that Amazon is moving its European customer services centre from Slough to Cork, Ireland, one of the reasons being that they cannot recruit enough employees from the Slough area with appropriate skills to handle enquiries in European languages. Ireland is unquestionably ahead of England in terms of its population's language skills (v. the 2005 Eurobarometer survey), but I suspect another (main?) reason for the move is that Ireland offers great business incentives. Why choose expensive Slough when cheaper Cork is available with better educated local people? Both Slough's and Cork's industrial estates are close to international airports.

Bear in mind that Slough's local Thames Valley University (TVU), which has main campuses in Slough and in Ealing, used to have well-equipped language centres on both campuses. I was Director of TVU's Ealing Campus Language Centre. TVU's language departments closed down in the 1990s - along with the two language centres - due to lack of recruitment of suitably qualified students. Fortunately, I retired (in 1993) before the crunch came. Ironically, at around this time I was employed as a consultant to the University of Limerick, helping them set up a new language centre - which is still going strong. There's a message here, I think...

This doesn’t help Slough’s tarnished image, of course. Slough took a battering as the location for “The Office” comedy sitcom series on TV. And then there’s John Betjeman’s famous poem on Slough, beginning:

"Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough

It isn't fit for humans now,

There isn't grass to graze a cow.

Swarm over, Death!"

In fairness both to Slough and to TVU, I was impressed by TVU’s student nurses during my recent stay in Wexham Park Hospital , Slough. Angels, all of them…

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  • 2 weeks later...


Graham, at last what we have been predicted has unfortunately come true.

Is there a primary source which you could give us a link to so I can print it for work? Alas, this is too late to influence our take up in Year 10 (very low this year , sadly) but there may be a couple of our GCSE cohort whom I could persuade to take up a language at A-Level...


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Audrey, how about this reference at the BBC site?


"Irish language skills lure Amazon"

The 2005 Eurobarometer survey, which is mentioned in the BBC article, can be found at:


This states that 41% of Irish people surveyed said they could speak a second language at conversational level, compared to 31% in the UK.

There are other interesting statistics in the 2005 Eurobarometer survey regarding the expanded EU. English is the dominant foreign language spoken in the EU (34%) followed by German (12%) and then French in third place (11%). Russian and Spanish come in jointly at 5%.

I am not surprised that German comes in higher than French. My first foreign language is German, and I have always tended to travel mainly in central and central/eastern Europe, where knowledge of French is not a great help. I always found German more useful. German is the dominant mother tongue in the EU, being spoken not only by Germans but also by Austrians and a substantial chunk of the populations of Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy (South Tyrol) and the Czech Republic. English mother tongue speakers are outnumbered by German mother tongue speakers.

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Read this article in The Times Online:

It’s no longer enough just to say it louder

English firms need to get up to speed on the languages and mores of their trading partners, writes Mike Nicks


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