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.

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

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star