Tube workers mind about language gap

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Indy Lifestyle Online
London Underground staff are asking for more French lessons in the face of an expected verbal onslaught by Continental passengers at Waterloo International Rail Terminal this autumn when it opens to serve Channel Tunnel passengers.

Although staple Underground phrases such as 'mind the gap', 'please take all your belongings with you' and the classic 'move right down inside the cars' will continue to be bellowed in the mother tongue, staff want to improve their ability to help French tourists seeking directions or other information.

Out of the 60 employees at the station, 25 volunteered for two-day language training sessions in February, but now want to preserve their French conversation skills and, if possible, broaden their vocabulary.

Michael Collins, a station supervisor at Waterloo, said yesterday that he was drafting a report to managers on behalf of the volunteers saying that, useful as they were, the two days were not enough.

'With practice we can give basic directions, but we need to be able to know more. There are things which we are going to hear which we will not be able to understand.

'There are going to be people coming down from the International Rail Terminal smoking, so we will need to be able to tell them they have to put cigarettes out.'

Phil O'Neill, London Underground's group station manager at Waterloo, said: 'Giving our staff these extra skills, however basic, means that they can communicate with more customers which makes sound business sense.'

'We are also looking at the possibility of employing several multi-lingual station assistants at Waterloo.'

Ask any railway guard in Calais how to board the night-train to Nice and you will doubtless be able to understand his English, even through a cloud of Gauloise smoke.

Once in Britain, however, travellers get little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a broad Cockney accent telling them to: 'Get on the Northern Line, go two stops, change to the Jubilee and ask again.'

However, Waterloo staff can now be heard directing bewildered French families to 'Quai deux' or 'La ligne noire' (lines have been translated from colours, not names).

One employee struggled with a few phrases before saying: 'I knew all this after the course and I was really good, but now I'm beginning to forget it, so I need another lesson.'

A keen colleague, who had brought in 16 language tapes to work to learn, added: 'As soon as I started learning French I got all sorts of people coming through here from Spain and Italy and the other day we had a whole load of Germans asking all sorts of questions.

'I said: 'Oh my God, I've learnt the wrong language'.'

(Photograph omitted)

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