The Linguist

The Linguist 56,3 – June/July 2017

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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INSPIRING LINGUISTS Sally Fagan with Matthias Postel, CIOL Business Development Manager (above); and delivering her lecture at Members' Day 2017 (right) 18 The Linguist Vol/56 No/3 2017 FEATURES The world needs leaders in the languages field, argues Sally Fagan in her Threlford Memorial Lecture "Y ou'll be fine! They all speak brilliant English! We're just so bad at languages, aren't we?". If I were given a pound each time I heard this, then I would indeed be rich by now! I think this sums up one of our main challenges with languages in this country – that of the British mindset. The UK is having to import linguistic skills in many career avenues because we are not producing enough linguists to meet demand. Among CIOL members, I have an audience of committed linguists, but that is quite a departure for me. Usually I am trying to persuade an audience of young people to keep studying languages. Yet I am a drop in the ocean; together we have a greater chance to turn the tide that appears to be consigning languages to the small print of British schools and society. Language leadership is important for every single one of us. Crisis point Linguists are becoming a rare breed in the UK. The decline in the numbers studying languages at school has been well documented, 1 and although the introduction of compulsory languages in primary schools is a step forward, the resources, planning and structures to make it effective are lacking. The dominance of English makes it unclear which language to teach, leading to an often disjointed transition from primary to secondary. The Guardian has reported that since 1998, the number of universities offering French, German, Italian or Spanish as single or joint honours has plunged by 40%. Michael Kelly, Head of Modern Languages at Southampton University and a former Government adviser, believes that if this rate of decline continues, two or three language departments will close every year. Increasingly we will have to source our language teachers from other countries. 2 The business case for languages has been well made, with 70% of businesses valuing language skills among their employees, 3 and 20% admitting to losing business due to a lack of language skills or cultural knowledge. Only 7% of the world's population speaks English as a first language. When we include those who speak English as a foreign language, we still only reach 25%. Of our top ten trading partners, only two have English as an official language: the USA and Ireland. The British people almost revel in declaring their aversion to languages. The notion that we English-speakers are inherently bad at languages is amusing. It almost suggests that we are a race apart – that maybe we have a language gene missing that somehow everyone else was blessed with. We are, of course, born with the same linguistic capability as everyone else. What is different are the social and environmental attitudes that shape our beliefs and motivations from an early age. In many cases, as Richard Brecht, who oversees the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language, said: "It isn't that people don't think language education important. It's that they don't think it's possible." 4 Overcoming this mindset is Taking the lead IMAGES © CHRIS CHRISTODOULOU

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