English 'spoken better abroad'

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The Independent Online
Foreigners take more pride in improving their spoken English than English people do, Trevor McDonald, ITN newscaster and chairman of the Better English Campaign, said yesterday.

Announcing plans to help young people speak and write better English, he said: "We are cursed by the tendency to take English too much for granted. To me it is extraordinary that we should neglect English when many people round the world are rushing to learn it." Other countries were more conscious of the power of language.

The campaign, which costs the Government pounds 250,000 a year, plus the salaries of two civil servants, was launched by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, at last year's Conservative party conference. Campaigners are sending out leaflets urging people to host Scrabble contests or set up word challenges as part of their local pub quiz to improve the nation's English.

Employers will be sent leaflets urging them to sponsor public speaking competitions, or campaign weeks on local radio. They will also be asked to explain to unsuccessful job applicants if their rejection was due to poor English. Firms which want to become Better English employers must agree to promote the campaign's aims in staff recruitment and training and to offer interview practices in local schools and colleges.

Mr McDonald was surprised to discover that many people were arriving at university ill-equipped to express themselves in both spoken and written English. However, he emphasised that he was not asking schools to shoulder the blame for the lack of basic communication skills among school leavers.

"There are people who do very well at school who still lack the skill to present themselves in a job interview," he said.