IMPROVING language learning in schools is becoming an economic necessity.

Recently, a petrochemical firm cited an inability to recruit language speakers as the reason its Scots headquarters did not become a European sales hub, causing a loss of jobs worth £4 million a year.

The problem will only get worse. Scotland's main markets are currently in the English speaking world, but Scottish Development International anticipates the rise of spending power in China, India, Brazil and Russia will change the face of Scots trade in the next decade.

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The "cycle of decline" in Scotland is well-illustrated in the report.

It notes: "With fewer students taking languages to exam level ... this can impact on the viability of the language qualifications that the Scottish Qualifications Authority can offer and on higher education institutions maintaining their investment in language departments.

"This is resulting in fewer new teachers able to teach language skills and fewer linguists to satisfy the jobs market more generally."

It pins the blame on the previous Labour-led Scottish Government.

From 1989, an initiative called Languages for All had established compulsory language teaching up to S4, but this was swept away a decade later with a shift from compulsion to entitlement for secondary pupils.

"The shortcomings of that approach are now evident in the wide variation of current provision," the report says.

It is perhaps surprising to note none of the recommendations suggests the reintroduction of compulsion. The Scottish Government will rely on the focus on primary teaching generating greater interest in secondary.

There are two key concerns. Some argue greater focus should be given to improving existing continuity between primary and secondary language study before expansion.

The other uncertainty is whether there is funding for the recommendation for the Government to considerthe resource implications of its language policy, making dedicated appropriate additional funding available to councils.