The Linguist

The Linguist 53,4

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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6 The Linguist AUGUST/SEPTEMBER NEWS & EDITORIAL Philip Harding-Esch on the role of languages within the UK Government A s linguists, we often focus on what Government is doing for languages, but at its last meeting, the All-party parliamentary Group (AppG) on Modern Languages looked at the part languages play in Government itself. there is agreement among the parliamentarians looking at these issues that the world is changing rapidly both at home and abroad, and the Government needs to respond. the AppG heard from David thomas, head of the international Skills Unit at the Foreign and commonwealth office (Fco), which oversees the new Fco Language centre; Lord Wallace, Lords spokesperson for the cabinet office and the Whip responsible for the Fco; and Lord howell, chair of the Lords committee on Soft power. the committee's recent report identifies a shift away from traditional diplomatic and military activity towards a much more complex and subtle set of required skills. Among its recommendations is that Government 'should look in particular at the role that the military plays in projecting soft power'; promote the Uk 'as a partner (including a commercial partner), not simply as an aid-giver' in Africa and elsewhere; and address the 'underrepresentation of British officials in international institutions', such as the United Nations (UN) and the European commission, and other geopolitical networks. the Government should also 'make every effort to redress the decline in language learning in Uk schools and universities'. Similarly, the British Academy's Lost for Words report recommends a cross- Government strategy to include an audit of language skills in Government, and collaboration between departments and agencies; and a change in culture in the civil service to ensure languages are seen as a highly desirable skill across the board. Lord Wallace made it clear that the civil service is aware of the challenges and that there is now a focus on cross-departmental cooperation with a need for a proper audit and a valorising of language skills. the challenges will not be solved overnight, however. there is still no cross- Whitehall strategy for languages, for instance, and while the Fco possesses a Self Service Skills register that is used to deploy staff with the right languages to support crises, such as recently in Ukraine, David thomas said a number of it challenges remain before different Government systems can be joined up effectively. Language retention in a civil service where staff follow increasingly diverse career paths and postings is also an issue. 'the ability to use a language at a high level of proficiency' is a key indicator of the Fco's new 'Engaging internationally' competence. the Fco Language centre opened in 2013 and already has 100-120 full-time language students each week and 40 part-time classes in more than 60 languages. there is a great need for the centre, with one third of all Fco positions overseas designated as 'speaker slots' (posts where the ability to communicate effectively in the local language is considered essential). Many other departments and Mps use the centre as well, and thomas chairs a cross- party group to coordinate the departments that deploy staff overseas with a language requirement. he is now keen to network and collaborate with higher Education institutes and the London Embassy network. Looking at the big picture, Lord howell sees our Embassies taking on a bold new role as 'superchannels' of Uk influence. the modern ambassador needs to be a polymath, able to communicate face-to-face, and in old, new and social media, to a varied, vast and connected audience. this challenge goes beyond the Embassies themselves. Every department in Whitehall, public agencies and the private sector have all become the front line in Uk relations with the rest of the world. We are all going to need to communicate with many people across the globe. it is difficult for the Government's administrative structures to catch up – but they must. contact philip harding-Esch at to receive details of future AppG meetings and speakers. Inside parliament Philip Harding-Esch works on behalf of the British Council to support the APPG. TL © iStockphoto

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