The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES @Linguist_CIOL FEBRUARY/MARCH The Linguist 11 All FCO-trained linguists are tested and assessed against the internationally recognised Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Around a third of Speaker Slots are required to achieve proficiency at C2 level, with the rest requiring at least C1 level. The FSI has a similar requirement using the Interagency Language Roundtable framework. Non-Speaker Slot colleagues, including non-diplomatic and locally engaged staff, also have access to language and cultural training. Access is granted based on individual merits and a business case must be presented as justification. The training can take one of several forms, including one-to-one coaching, group classes at the embassy or funding towards external classes. Informal options that do not require funding are also encouraged, for example a language corner set up by native-speaker staff, conversation groups and language partners. NEGOTIATING EFFECTIVELY Cultural and linguistic understanding is the foundation of diplomacy, and the practical benefits are enormous. People are more likely to be willing to interact if they know they can speak with you in their mother tongue. Larger audiences can be reached if content is delivered in the target language – even more so if it demonstrates a deeper understanding of the local culture. At its most basic level this helps build rapport and trust. During my tenures in Beijing and Shanghai, my ability to speak Mandarin, and to read and write Traditional and Simplified Chinese, was invaluable in both a professional and a personal capacity. It has allowed me to build rapport and negotiate much more effectively with colleagues and other stakeholders when Chinese is their preferred language, and even when it isn't. I am positive that I am much better at my job as a result. Such a sentiment is shared by my FCO colleagues. Harry Pellegrini found his linguistic skills invaluable during his time representing the UK Government overseas, prior to his current role in the Treasury. "As a means to writing and implementing country-relevant policy that is accurate and effective, speaking the language is really important. From the time I've spent in post and in Whitehall, it's become obvious to me that policy-making is improved through deep country knowledge that comes from being able to communicate directly with national policy- makers, thought leaders and the public," he says. "Staff that can speak the local language well are not only much more effective at their jobs, they are also much more resilient in post. They take the challenges that living overseas throws up much more in their stride because they are able to develop better relationships with local staff, counterparts and people at large." A colleague who works for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) out of the British Embassy in Beijing told me that he would struggle in his job without his language skills, which he uses every day. Another states that, going forward and particularly considering Brexit, bilingual skills among civil servants and diplomats are "absolutely fundamental to Britain's credibility overseas. This will only become more important." He adds that is hard to think of any "foreign diplomat in London who can't understand the BBC or read a [British] newspaper headline," and that this same level of proficiency is now expected of British government representatives overseas. In March 2019, the FCO stated in its Annual Report and Accounts: "Languages are an integral part of the BUILDING RELATIONS James Halstead meets a young visitor at the British Embassy Open Day in Beijing (main image); and (above) diplomats converse at the Hague © SHUTTERSTOCK

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