Hats off to Alex Rawlings, who has just been voted Britain's most multi-lingual student of the year. At a time when the UK is widely criticised abroad as the language "dunce" of Europe because of the plummeting numbers that take languages at GCSE, Alex has won the award for speaking 11 languages fluently.
Alex, who was brought up in London and went to Latymer School – one of the country's leading fee-paying schools – reckons he had a head-start. "My mother is half Greek and she spoke to me in Greek and a little bit in French when I was young," he says. "My dad had a job in Japan at a university for four years and we went out to visit him."
He was one of almost 50 students to enter the competition, run by publishers Collins and Livemocha. Half spoke at least four languages.
Alex, 20, concedes that early exposure to a multi-lingual experience aided him – and is not something every young student can enjoy. He is currently studying German and Russian at Oxford University.
He believes opportunities to use his languages skills are likely to be greater in Russia than in the UK. "There are opportunities for people who speak fluent English and Russian in Russia," he says. "It's a bit of a depressing picture over here." The sad thing is he is probably quite right – despite all the noises coming from employers about our lack of language skills, the truth is, as some academics have observed, they do not promote the acquisition of language skills nearly enough. Which is why the UK could be losing the services of talented linguists like Alex.
For the record, the 11 languages he speaks fluently are English, Greek, German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, Hebrew, Catalan and Italian. He took A-levels in German, Spanish and Ancient Greek – and also studied French and Latin at GCSE level.