Podium: Net opens up the world of language

From the inaugural lecture given by the Professor of Languages for the Professions at City University, London

WE ARE living in a period of momentous change. The shape of the world map is undergoing constant modification, and world horizons are widening all the time. A whole new range of professional skills has been acquired and the concept of literacy needs to be re-defined, extending as it does to using Microsoft Word, not to mention surfing the Net, to get the latest information on using Linux, plus knowing how to print out the data and get the photocopier to back on and staple in a single run without wasting more than 10 sheets of paper. To this should now be added being able to read in more than one language (not forgetting Spike Milligan's educated woman, who spoke eight languages - and said nothing intelligent in any of them). And that's not just reading the paper in more than one language, but surfing the Web in several of them.

Some people may feel complacent. English, after all, is the lingua franca of the world (let alone cyberspace), and it is probably true to say that any educated foreigner now will have "done" English, quite possibly starting in primary school at the age of eight, going on family exchanges at 13, to summer schools at 15, and (increasingly) coming over to University in Britain at 20 or 22. But here the British are at a disadvantage: what language should we learn? French is most widely taught at school, but Spanish is spoken more worldwide (it is the majority language of the Caribbean, for example, not to mention los Yunait, where Hispanics are concentrated in Nueva York, La Florida, Nuestra Senora de los Angeles and San Francisco de Ass, to give them their old Spanish names).

German has turned out to be useful as a modus operandi in Eastern Europe, where Russian was once de rigueur, and is now de trop. The "hard" languages (such as Arabic and Chinese) require a gung-ho attitude in order to make progress, and any language is a great cultural pastime for the dilettante. American firms in particular are uncompromising in their view that English is numero uno for the head honcho, (even in a country where some 25 million people have Spanish as their first language) and some international companies are following suit in Germany and Scandinavia. But this is no more than schadenfreude, as such people can talk another language when they want to; they can get the information they need, not just what has been filtered into English for them, and they will know what people are saying behind their backs over the coffee.

We are setting up a language support scheme online for members of Lloyd's and the International Underwriting Association, with support from the City Corporation. In February we went to have talks at the Ecole Nationale d'Assurance in Paris. Their international officer speaks excellent English, but she spoke French all day, because (as she gleefully pointed out) we should speak French in Paris, and she (of course) would speak English in London. Language skills give us a head start when breaking into new markets, making contact with new partners or getting the measure of new rivals. A laissez-faire attitude towards languages will simply lead to lost opportunities .

People should be proud to speak another language; research being conducted for the new London Languages Guidebook (sponsored by the City Corporation) shows that 25 per cent or more of London schoolchildren speak something other than English at home, and the total number of languages spoken in London now exceeds 275; that does not include the people who go to classes in order to write what they can speak fluently with their grandparents, or the ones who (increasingly) want to learn the language of their partners' grandparents in order to benefit from the cultural diversity and not to feel left out at family gatherings.

International companies have noticed this, and the range of fluent language- speakers (with UK university qualifications) is increasingly given as a reason for relocating to London.

Undoubtedly, it is important to have a command of the basics of any language, and we find, logically enough, that our students are keen on travel and social situations.

At work, it is important to be familiar as much with the mot juste as with the faux ami, and to be able to communicate in a particular field. A little learning can, however, be a dangerous thing. The French still insist that Churchill once started a speech in which he intended to say, "When I look at my past, I see it is divided into two halves," by saying, "Lorsque je regarde mon derriere, je vois..." but as with many good sayings, it is probably just wishful thinking.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence