Over the past nine months there has been much speculation over Brexit, with many of us wondering what the consequences will be for education as well as our cultural and economic relationships. But, with article 50 finally triggered and our fates soon to be determined, perhaps the UK can begin to look at Brexit as an opportunity to reassess and develop a more global outlook.
No longer being part of a 27 strong group, we will be responsible for our own standing on the world stage. This is an ideal time for the UK to not only maintain, but indeed strengthen and enrich its cultural and global market.
The UK has never been particularly renowned for its international linguistic abilities. I think most have the view that when abroad we expect everyone to communicate in our mother tongue. Post Brexit puts us in a position where we will need to improve our language and communication skills in order to engage effectively with other nations globally.
There is also uncertainty surrounding the free movement of students. A change in status for our national and international students could mean that visas become more difficult to obtain, university fees may begin to rise and movement in both directions could be restricted. With the prospect of fewer international students enriching our culture, and fewer UK students able to experience other cultures, it becomes even more important we create these opportunities for ourselves.
Languages should become a central focus in order to strengthen relationships with our international neighbours and to develop global markets.
Language and culture are inextricably linked with subtle cultural nuances playing just as an important a part as the words that are actually being spoken. So, for us to be able to maintain our positive relationships with countries across the world, it is important that we implement more expertise in this area. At Padworth College we have a unique approach to languages which encourages our students to share not only their native language with others, but also the cultural nuances that accompany it.
The way that we greet each other, our manners and etiquette, the signs and symbols we use and even our perceptions of personal space differ greatly from country to country, so cultural sensitivity and understanding are vital – especially for the development of our global economy. Following the Padworth experience, UK schools should seek ways to gain a better understanding of the invisible and subtle differences between people of different cultures. We should be providing answers to questions like: how is trust built differently in this culture? And, what is the most constructive way to provide criticism?
Ways of expressing yourself vary enormously between countries. For example, the culture in China is very different to that in the UK. In China the negotiation style is all about developing the relationship first, before business is dealt with. Harmony is more important than power in solving issues. The management style tends to be paternal. What motivates is emotional satisfaction rather than materialistic reward. Trust is more powerful than contract and finally seniority is more respected than competence.
At Padworth we have found that by strengthening the linguistic ability and cultural sensitivity of our students, we can help shape their understanding of the outside world and, more importantly, how their future careers will be influenced by how they live. Offering international experience to employees is a way of transferring knowledge and experience from one region to another whilst, at the same time, developing skills. In turn, these individuals will increase their breadth of knowledge and leadership capabilities, enabling them to contribute more effectively to their place of work.
Research has shown that 20% - 50% of employees posted overseas return early because they do not have the necessary cultural understanding and are not prepared for their new working environment. The result is a significant cost to the employer and, often, unwelcome upset for the employee.
Learning about languages and appreciating others’ cultures are key to overcoming this.
Learning even the simplest phrases gives a clear message of the willingness to engage. Then going further, we can progress to understand the tone and intention of words. For example, the British are often perceived as overly polite and Americans often as overly assertive, so what is said can be easily misunderstood by non-native speakers. Similarly, French and Spanish terms of speech can often be interpreted as rather blunt and direct when, in fact, no offence was intended.
The better equipped we are linguistically and culturally, the better we can overcome the challenges we will undoubtedly face in the coming years as a result of Brexit. Communicating more effectively with others can only support the growth of more, and the loss of fewer, business opportunities. A positive global outlook and healthy international relations can only serve to reach our overall goal: the creation of a long term thriving economy for the whole of the UK.
John Aguilar, Principal, Padworth College