In the multi-cultural melting pot that is the nation's capital, it is the sort of question that is bound to arise once in a while for London's 31,000 police officers: how do you say "Which way did he go?" in Arabic? Or Polish. Or Spanish. Or Bulgarian. Or Vietnamese. Or Farsi.
An increasing number of London's beat bobbies will soon be able to answer such questions without reverting to a dictionary, or Google Translate. An initiative which gives new meaning to gags about the "word of plod" has been launched by the Metropolitan Police offering language lessons to officers so they can speak in the mother tongue of the capital's burgeoning ethnic communities.
A pilot project, which saw more than 150 police taking part in computer-based courses last year, has been judged so successful that a second wave of courses will run this year. Would-be polyglot bobbies will be offered lessons in 18 languages, ranging from French to Mandarin, at a cost of £400 per officer.
The aim of the lessons, open to all officers but offered with a preference to beat officers, is to allow Scotland Yard staff to improve communication with minority groups when offering crime prevention advice or in situations such as answering a 999 call.
An internal briefing document seen by The Independent states another of the goals of the programme is to "change public perception" of the force.
The courses, which offer 40 hours of learning over six weeks, aim to offer a level of knowledge comparable to a GCSE, with vocabulary tailored to the needs of policing.
In a reflection of the shifting nature of London's ethnic mix, the most popular courses taken up so far are Arabic, Polish and Spanish.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Policing a city as diverse as London requires our officers… to engage with different communities and the languages spoken with them. We have recently offered officers and staff the opportunity to develop their language skills in order to improve direct communication between police and the communities we serve."
The newly conversant officers join a list of 1,000 Yard staff who are already registered as having specialist language skills because of their family background or previous experience.
The courses range from mainstream European languages such as French, German and Italian to more exotic tongues matching migration patterns into Britain and community groups across the capital. Other languages on offer include Bulgarian, Korean, Lithuanian, Rom-anian, Russian, Somali, Turkish and Vietnamese.
The Met expects to fill the 120 places available this year for the courses, which culminate in a three-day assessment. Opinion among the rank and file, once they have recovered from the shock of swapping charge sheets for role-playing as a Bengali businessman, seems positive. One officer said: "Probably the hardest course I have done for 20 years in the Met. But also probably the best and very rewarding."
The polyglot police
How many drinks have you had today? Cuántas bebidas alcoholicas tomaste hoy?
Put your hands on your head. Pon tus manos en tu cabeza
Stay back! Quedense por atras!
No, don't worry, there is no mafia in London, we have very few drive-by shootings. Non ti preoccupare; non esiste la Mafia a Londra. Ci sono pochi sparatorie da macchina in corsa
'Ello, 'ello, 'ello. Salve, salve, salve
Yes, I agree, London in the snow doesn't look that different from Moscow. Da, soglasen, pod snegom london ne tak otlichaetsya ot moskvy
Come along quietly. Tikho, tikho, poshli so mnoi
Put the handcuffs on. Nadet' naruchniki
What did the suspect look like? Kaif kana shakl al mouttahham?
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