Will language certification be affected by Brexit?

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Written by Armin Hopp on 26 August 2016

Language competencies are vital in the European and global market. Multilingualism is one of the keys to the cultural diversity of the European Union, which has 24 official languages, and the translation service of the European Commission is one of the largest in the world.

It looks likely but by no means certain that English will remain the working language in EU institutions and will go on being the language of trade and business, but it is unclear how competency in English language will be certified to EU standards.

Over a period of 20 years, the Council of Europe developed the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) that has underpinned language certification throughout the world. 

The CEFR framework is intended to provide ‘a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the development of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency.’

It is used in Europe, but also in other continents and is available in 40 languages. Member states regularly work together and issue updated recommendations as to the best way to deliver and certify language learning through the CEFR.

Following the Brexit vote it is unclear whether the UK will continue to have access and input to the CEFR. In addition, English, the main working tongue of EU institutions, may no longer be an official language of the European Union once Britain leaves, according to a Reuters report.

MEP Danuta Hübner, Chairwoman of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs of the European Parliament, has said: “English is the official language because the UK requested it. If we have no UK, we have no English.”

Language competency

So what does the future look like when it comes to language competency requirements in business? A number of major corporations are planning a move out of the UK in the event of UK leaving the EU. If that happens, there is likely to be an urgent requirement to deliver workforce development in the language of the country that will be the business’ new home.

French is traditionally the language of diplomacy, but English gained more relevance following the EU’s eastward expansion. In the new European Union of 27 countries, it is possible that French will become the predominant language once again.

There is no doubt German will also be a major contender. It is clearly worth considering building competency in English, French and German, so that the organisation is well prepared for the future.

Effective and consistent language skills assessment is a foundational building block for developing competence. Speexx’ Language Assessment Center, for example, offers language skills assessment, combining online and oral testing, integrated with blended learning provision.

Organisations can screen applicants and employees based on the CEFR. Through its descriptors and can-do statements, the CEFR level system is uniform for all significant languages. It comprises six precisely defined competence levels ranging from basic user to near native speaker level. Results are comparable to other major certifications such as IELTS and TOEFL and the alignment is widely understood.

However, the Brexit vote plays out, there is no doubt that communication skills will continue to be key to organisational success in the global marketplace. One in five organisations (21 per cent) identify the lack of foreign language skills among employees as the main factor hampering effective communications in their organisations, so there is unlikely to be a let-up in the demand to provide language learning. 

Training professionals delivering language competency learning are not likely to see any changes in language certification in the short term but we at Speexx recommend keeping in touch with your supplier to keep abreast of changes – we will certainly be keeping a close eye on developments.

Armin Hopp is the Founder and President of Speexx.