Kathryn Board: 'We know there is more work to be done, but the general mood is excitement and enthusiasm'

Chief executive of CILT, the national centre for languages
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The Independent Online

I feel quietly optimistic about the future of languages. More and more employers are beginning to publicly acknowledge that there is a real need for languages in our globalised world, and that English is no longer enough. Despite the current financial crisis, a recent report by HSBC Commercial Banking showed that four out of five UK businesses plan to grow over the next 12 months and nearly half of these are looking to international trade to make that a reality. Employers are increasingly recognising the potential of language skills to build a cultural bridge to overseas clients by showing a willingness to understand other cultures and ways of doing business. And so, to meet demand and to provide vital support the UK economy, it is important for us to encourage our young people to give languages a chance.

The fantastic work going on in primary schools is very encouraging and leads us to hope that our dream of a bright future of young linguists could soon become a reality. Primary children show a genuine natural enthusiasm for language learning, as was evident from the three winning primary projects in this year's European Award for Languages. These children were learning languages through blogging, interactive links with France and Spain, and mixing Spanish with history to learn about the life of Christopher Columbus. These are just some of the examples of the fantastic work going on in primary languages at the moment. We know that there is a lot more work to be done and we are receiving a lot of demand for our training for primaries which are just starting out with languages, but the general impression coming from this sector is one of vitality, excitement and real enthusiasm for languages.

In secondary schools and higher education there are still many challenges to be faced, but also much ground for optimism. A slow in the decline of languages take up at GCSE level gives us hope that we might soon see a reversal of this trend. We are certain that the key to doing this lies in highlighting the benefits of languages to young people by showing them that, in addition to specialist language careers, languages open up a world of opportunities across a range of sectors, as shown by our Languages Work case studies.

The new secondary curriculum and the diplomas for 14-to 19-year-olds help to do this by offering young people the chance to gain knowledge and skills within an applied, work-related context. Cilt is involved in the development of the new diploma in languages, which is set to provide a completely new, stimulating language qualification for teenagers. All of these factors make languages an attractive option for young people.

As well as the importance of languages across the whole career spectrum, translation, interpreting and teaching are still key areas for linguists. There is currently a need for native English speaking translators and interpreters, and we expect to see much growth in this demand over the next few years. Cilt is helping to create links between university translation courses and translation agencies in order to set up more work placement opportunities for students. We are also working with them to make sure the experience is a positive one. As part of our work to help boost take-up of languages in higher education, we are managing two national networks: one for translation and the other for interpreting, and their work is key to producing more talented specialist linguists.

For many teenagers, the most powerful lessons about languages come from hearing another young person talking about the fantastic life and career experiences they are having thanks to their language skills. I believe that with such positive examples from young people, combined with innovative changes to the secondary school curriculum, and a new generation of enthusiastic young linguists coming up from primary schools, the future of languages gives us much to be hopeful about.

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