Only 5pc at third level able to speak two foreign languages
Published 16/06/2011 | 05:00
IRISH college students are almost the worst in Europe when it comes to speaking foreign languages.
They are second from the bottom of a 25-country league, where Turkey is placed last.
In most European countries, at least 20pc of third-level students claim to be proficient in at least two foreign languages.
But in Ireland, the figure is a miserly 5pc -- better only than Turkey, where just 2pc claim to speak two foreign languages, according to a new report.
However, the Eurostudent report on the Social and Economic Conditions of Student Life in Europe found that Ireland was one of the few European countries that could be classed as socially inclusive for higher education.
Among the 25 countries, Ireland, along with the Netherlands and Switzerland, was found to have a greater mix of students from different social backgrounds in college.
There is growing concern about poor language skills among graduates.
The poor command of foreign languages among Irish students is partly attributed to the fact that studying the national language is compulsory in schools.
As a result, many second-level students study only one modern European language, such as French or German.
According to Eurostudent, Ireland is up with Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia in having more than 80pc of students not having studied in another country.
The EU's Erasmus programme is the main route used by third-level students to spend time studying in another country, usually an average of six months of classes or research.
Gerry O'Sullivan, of the Higher Education Authority, said: "It is more important than ever that our graduates have an understanding of European societies and languages.
"It makes them more attractive to employers, but also sensitive to cultural issues and different methods of learning."
In a recent GradIreland survey, carried out by the careers services in the higher education colleges in Ireland, one-third of employers expressed concern about a shortage of foreign language skills, up from one in five last year.
It was also highlighted in another report produced by the FAS Skills and Labour Market Research Unit on behalf of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, providing an overview and analysis of the demand for labour as measured by trends in advertised job vacancies.
The analysis of the vacancy data pointed to the importance of foreign languages as an integral part of the skills portfolio of candidates.
Where job vacancies arose, jobseekers with third-level qualifications coupled with work experience and foreign language skills were more likely to be in demand.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the fact that all Irish people speak English could be a disincentive to learning other languages.
The spokesman added that 81pc of second-level pupils studied three languages -- Irish, English and a continental language -- to Leaving Cert level, and more than 70pc of schools offered two foreign languages or more.