The Linguist

The Linguist 54,1

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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8 The Linguist FEBRUARY/MARCH AWARD WINNERS COMMITMENT: GCHQ Language Analysts all have full-time day jobs but they manage to visit around 30 schools a year T here is a hubbub of excited chatter in the Year 9 language classroom as the pupils await the arrival of a special guest speaker – after all, it's not every day that a British Intelligence Officer visits your school! And yet, this is exactly what Language Analysts from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been doing over the last eight years – visiting secondary schools up and down the country, talking to pupils about the value of learning a foreign language and explaining how vital languages are to GCHQ's work. GCHQ is one of the UK's three intelligence agencies. Working closely with MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), it gathers and analyses digital and electronic signals from all corners of the world, many of which are in foreign languages. It is the job of our Language Analysts to use their expert linguistic and cultural knowledge to translate and analyse these communications in order to produce intelligence reports that help to protect the UK from external threats, such as terrorism, organised crime and military action. Language skills, therefore, underpin the work of the organisation. A typical school visit starts with a talk from the GCHQ representative about the benefits of learning languages. When Year 9 pupils choose their subject options for GCSE, many drop languages, usually because they are perceived to be 'difficult', or not relevant or useful. What good is a qualification in languages? Everyone speaks English, don't they? So when they hear that 75% of the world's population does not speak English, and that the most widely spoken language is Chinese, it begins to make them think. And when they hear how languages are essential to GCHQ's mission in the fight against terrorism, drugs smuggling and arms trafficking, it really makes them sit up. Outreach programme As the largest government employer of linguists in the UK, GCHQ is well placed to share its linguistic expertise with schools and convince pupils of the value of studying languages. Our Language Analysts are passionate about their subject and know from personal experience how satisfying it is to be able to communicate with people who speak another language. They are also very aware that it is not just GCHQ that needs staff with language skills. So, although part of the aim of the GCHQ Language Outreach Programme is to raise awareness of GCHQ as a potential employer, the linguists also point out that British business is crying out for employees with language skills, and that having a language on your CV can be a winning asset. The programme also places great value on heritage languages – i.e, languages that pupils may speak at home but not study formally. Many do not realise that this can be a marketable skill. GCHQ has been running its outreach programme since 2006, initially visiting secondary schools close to its Gloucestershire base, but now operating across the country. In recent years, our Language Analysts have made an average of 30 school visits a year, from Perth to Penzance and from Monmouth to Maidstone. The GCHQ Schools Language Outreach Coordinator explains: 'Our outreach visits usually start with talks to Year 9 students who are considering which subjects to choose for their GCSE options, but we can also tailor our presentations to cater for older students too. For A-level language students preparing to apply to university, we also offer taster classes in languages like Chinese, Arabic, Persian or Russian in the hope that the students may be inspired to apply to study a more unusual language at university. All of these languages can be studied ab initio at university with no previous knowledge required.' She explains: 'The only caveat we place on visits is that we prefer it if schools can team up with other schools in the local area. We have a limited number of Language Analysts who are able to make school visits, and all have operational day jobs, so it would be impossible to visit every individual secondary school in the country.' The top-secret nature of GCHQ's work means that staff are not usually able to talk The work of GCHQ analysts is usually secret, so it's a joy to go into schools to inspire students to study languages The spy in the classroom

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