The Linguist

The Linguist 53,2

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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Page 15 of 35 FEATURES Journalist and broadcaster Rosie Goldsmith explains why she owes her life to languages A t the BBC we are taught to be objective in our journalism but when it comes to learning languages I'm not objective at all: for me there is no alternative. Languages should be compulsory for all British school children and everyone should have access to them. They are a springboard to a more successful and interesting life. I owe my life to languages. My active involvement in public campaigns to encourage others to love them as much as I do is the least I can do to say 'thank you'. Without my French, German and Italian I wouldn't have become a BBC foreign affairs journalist or have lived a near-decade in Germany and, before that, in France; I wouldn't have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall; I wouldn't travel the world for work or understand the operas of Richard Wagner. This centenary year, I wouldn't be making films for the Goethe- Institut about the First World War. Most importantly, I wouldn't have met my husband Max, another BBC journalist, also a language nut. He speaks French, German, Italian, spatterings of Russian and Hungarian, and derives strange pleasure from runes and Sanskrit. (Our dinner conversations can be rather geeky.) Everything I do today has roots in languages. I began my career on BBC Radio 4 in 1989 on a new programme called Europhile. The Berlin Wall fell two days before our first transmission; the revolutions of Eastern Europe followed rapidly – I didn't sleep much or stop moving for several months. Thanks to my Latin and Italian, I cobbled together enough Romanian to talk to people in Bucharest a few days after Ceausescu's downfall. The Europhile team was hand-picked for our language skills – quite exotic on domestic radio in those days. The BBC World Service, on the other hand, seethed with linguists. So, as I hacked off chunks of the Berlin Wall, I was able to interview East Germans in German; later, in the banlieues of Paris, I spoke with rioting young immigrants in French. I used my languages every single day. Europhile evolved into the global current affairs documentary strand Crossing Continents, so I was able to broaden my linguistic scope from East Timor to Japan to Libya and beyond. Our office sang to the sound of many languages – Japanese, Greek, Arabic, Luxembourgish, Russian, Polish, and several of us spoke German, French, Spanish and Italian (I was no longer exotic). I began presenting other programmes. In Prague, for Radio 4's A World in your Ear, I found that I could communicate with a whole generation of Czechs who spoke German. For From our Own Correspondent and Front Row, my scripts and interviews were easier, richer and deeper thanks to a knowledge of languages and foreign affairs. I'm telling you all this not to self-promote but to promote languages. Because if I can do it, anyone can. My parents weren't wealthy diplomats but frugal teachers with wanderlust. They dragged their four children round the world in a tent and a Ford Taunus. I learned bits of Afrikaans growing up in southern Africa and my first German words, aged 11, from a Munich woodcarver on a campsite in Venice. As a child, hearing myself use foreign words made me feel exotic, special, different, dare I say empowered? I attended a comprehensive school in Cornwall and it was perfectly natural – and, in those days, possible – for me to choose French, German and Latin for A-level. I studied French and German at the University of Nottingham and, latterly, more slowly and painfully, I've been learning Italian. Arabic would be my next choice. Loving the sound, the country and the culture of a language guided my choice; having a musical ear helped me learn them. Speaking a foreign language is also about performance – or, as my family describes it, showing-off. I like being Italian or German or South African – and, thanks to my languages, I feel I have a legitimate right to belong to those cultures. I also have an embarrassing habit of copying foreigners' accents when they talk, which can be funny but also very rude. (I would rather forget the time I impersonated the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark when I was with her!) After university in the late 1980s, my love of German took me to Cologne and it was from there that I began broadcasting for the Deutsche Welle, BBC World Service and US National Public Radio. My first story for the BBC (for Radio 4's Woman's Hour) was about On the soapbox

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