Open Eye: University takes a Spanish accent

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The Independent Online
The OU, already the UK's largest university, will become the nation's largest provider of language education with the launch of its Spanish course in February next year - at a time when the traditional British disdain for foreign languages is under fire.

A recent Department of Trade survey claimed that 21 percent of British firms had lost business because of a lack of foreign language skills among their workforce.

A national project, the Nuffield Inquiry, is now underway to investigate the levels of linguistic skills throughout the country, and then to suggest improvements.

The Director of the OU's Centre for Modern Languages, Anne Stevens, is one of several leading language experts who have been asked to comment on the initial findings.

"There are a number of very exciting developments happening in language education," she said.

But we have to acknowledge that the Inquiry has found us to be lagging behind our European neighbours."

The Centre for Modern Languages, which already runs courses in French and German, estimates it will be training up to 8,000 people a year from 1999, and anticipates a growing demand for language training from business people.

The Centre is also involved in several business-related research projects including the development of language auditing software - a computer program that allows companies to assess the linguistic capabilities of their staff and map these against company needs.

The program has been used successfully by several French companies, and the Centre is seeking a partner to produce the software for use in the UK.

Other projects include a 12-month review of the Foreign Office's policies and practice for providing language training for its diplomats, and trials of Internet and e-mail tutorials.