Letters: We are told to learn a foreign language. But which one?

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The Independent Online

Which languages should the British learn? I am not talking about talented linguists, but the ordinary person.

In the 1960s, at my secondary school, I took French, German and Latin to A- level. At the end of seven years I came away fluent in none of them. If all that effort had been put into just one language, it most likely would have been French, and after seven years I would have been fluent in it. However, as my wife is half German, all my subsequent European contacts have been with German speakers.

It is high time that one international language was decided upon; I would favour either English, the lingua franca of many countries already, or Esperanto, but the important thing is for the world to decide on one, once and for all, and get on with it.

Eric Fitch, Taplow, Buckinghamshire

Your comments on the drop in numbers of students learning foreign languages are absolutely correct (editorial, 19 August), but do not go far enough.

As a teacher of French and Russian for some 30 years, I reflect with sadness on the fact that the decline in the study of Russian in schools and universities over that period closely mirrors the deterioration in relationships between the United Kingdom and Russia.

In learning a foreign language, one also learns about another culture; in these difficult times we are greatly in need of those who understand Russia and its people.

David Martin, Witham, Essex

It is wrong to suggest businesses don't encourage pupils to study languages ("Business blamed for slump in foreign language entries", 22 August).

Languages are growing in importance to UK firms, as they operate in an increasingly global marketplace. Three out of four employers value their staff having conversational ability in another language. Firms don't necessarily want employees to be able to negotiate the finer points of contracts in a foreign language, but they do value the ability to strike up a rapport with a potential customer that might help a contract being drawn up in the first place.

Young people should therefore be confident that language skills are wanted by employers.

Susan Anderson, Director of Education and SkillsConfederation of British Industry, London WC1

An Olympic show worthy of Britain

We should be positive. We may have passed up the opportunity at the Beijing closing ceremony to present beauty, art, athleticism or a truly inspirational vision of 2012, but we did present celebrity, populism and Carnaby Street tourism. We can be confident of presenting an Olympic Games to stand shoulder to shoulder with Big Brother and The X Factor.

Rib Davis, London SE10

I do hope we represent Will Shakespeare among our cultural icons, as well as the excellent Messrs Lewis, Page and Beckham, for our Olympic sports junket in 2012.

It was, after all, Will who penned these lines - I am sure about Chris Hoy: "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/ Like a Colossus, and we petty men/ Walk under his huge legs and peep about."

Peter Evans, Bristol

Now that the dust is beginning to settle on the latest Olympic extravaganza, someone ought to put the achievements of the competing countries into perspective.

Without wishing to diminish the achievements of any particular athletes, I do not consider China or the US to be the champions of the games. According to the official statistics presented by the International Olympic Committee, which ranks the countries by the total number of medals won, the US came first (110 medals) followed by China (100), Russia (72), Britain (47) and Australia (46).

This is far too crude. One should at least take into consideration the pool of potential talent from which a country can draw its competitors.

A table of medals per million population produces the following ranking: 1 Bahamas, 2 Jamaica, 3 Iceland, 4 Slovenia, 5 Australia, and, interestingly, 27 Britain, 44 USA and 68 China.

I say "Bravo!" to these small countries with such limited resources that have managed to produce many more medals per head of population than the "big boys" who are expected to get a good number.

Michael Bawtree, Haslemere, Surrey

Philip Hensher (Opinion, 25 August) may well be right to suggest that an increase in government surveillance and control will be the real legacy of the London Olympics. Perhaps the legacy of Beijing will be even worse.

Much was made before the games of the belief that the increased contact between people in western democracies and China would improve human rights there. But maybe it will work the other way around. China has had a growing economy and global adulation for a successful Olympics, while paying no more than lip-service to human rights. Our political leaders may try to follow their example.

Terry Loane, Ruislip, Middlesex

Once again, an impressive photograph of the London Olympic site (25 August) fails to show the armed response total exclusion zone round the place, the holding pens for those arrested for having the temerity to turn up without the overpriced tickets, the ID card checking booths, the huge queueing pens for access, hopefully not in the care of the incompetents who did it at the Millennium Dome's opening, and the tiny areas set aside for registered demonstrations.

Mind you, these last are probably so small and distant that the picture would have to show considerably more of the east of London than it does to include them.

Andrew Calvert, Ruislip, Middlesex

If there was a United States of Europe, the medal table would look even more impressive: 87 gold, 101 silver and 92 bronze, a total of 280 medals for the countries of the EU, with all countries except Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg contributing to the total.

J W Hart, Sherborne, Dorset

How refreshing, even uplifting, it was to see no "European Union" flag flying in Beijing.

John Gibbs, Mexico City

Surely Gordon Brown must get credit for our success at the Olympic Games. After all, had we been a failure he would certainly have got the blame .

William Blake, Prestwick, Ayrshire

Whitehall data, a stupid mess

The Government admits to yet more important personal data being lost; this time that of prisoners, and, even more worryingly, possibly that of informants.

It is of course frighteningly geeky and unfashionable to know about such things; but it is increasingly clear that there is a seriously flawed data architecture in place in government departments. There is no excuse, indeed no good reason at all, for sensitive data to reside on any form of portable technology, laptop, handheld, etc; or indeed any PC desktop. Do our leaders even have any clue how much data is stored where? Perhaps the Home Office would like to tell us how many of its portable computers store important data?

Various technologies exist to avoid such stupidity. These are neither new nor experimental: the web is now two decades old and most of the security issues were addressed at the beginning. In the early Nineties, financial institutions in the City and New York routinely lost sensitive data to each other. Then it stopped. The obvious question is: why can our public services not do the same?

It is not in the public interest to discuss such techniques openly, nor the relative merits and flaws of each. This is, presumably, one reason why this government has been able to keep its own ineptitude under cover. It is also worth reflecting that a hierarchy so committed to spin and PR is equally complacent about the need for truth, as well as the need for respect of privacy.

I, for one, would refuse to work for such a rotten lot. Maybe I am far from alone. Perhaps they simply cannot find sufficiently qualified people, honest, caring professionals willing to work in such a mess?

Frank Dunn, London SE21

The dangerous idea of sentient animals

Steady on, Indy! Gorillas suffer grief, and magpies are highly intellectual (reports, 19 August).

Next you will be reporting that cows suffer great distress when we take away their newborn calves so that we can steal their milk, that foxes really don't enjoy being hounded to death by David Cameron and his chums, that rats suffer miserably as they take two weeks to bleed to death internally from poison, that elephants performing tricks do so out of fear of the violence meted out by their trainers, that foreign photographers' monkeys "smile" at the camera because they are terrified and drugged, and that laboratory animals suffer the same pain as we would if force-fed toxic chemicals.

Be careful. If you start down this road you might actually cause more people to join the ranks of the animal rights movement. And the farmers, hunters, zoo keepers, circus owners, gamekeepers and chemical companies would not like that at all.

John Bryant, Tonbridge, Kent

You can harvest your own energy

Janet Alty is not the only one to be concerned about the future of our energy supply (letters, 15 August). As one of the first businesses in the UK to instal renewable energy at our factory in 2003, both solar (120 panels) and wind (2.5 Kw), we believe that we should all be worried where our energy comes from.

Our energy bill (including gas) for the last financial year was under £4,000. This includes the subsidy we get for selling excess electricity to the grid. We are a manufacturing company with a turnover of £1.8m and a staff of 11. If our policy was followed by British manufacturing, possibly we would be competitive on the world stage.

Mark Ormiston, Ormiston Wire LtdIsleworth, Middlesex

Wine bureaucrats lose their bottle

Roger Hewell's letter (19 August) reminded me of a visit to a Californian winery. The labels on all the bottles, in addition to the usual health warnings, bore at the bottom the words "Open other end".

The proprietor told us that all wine labels had to be submitted for approval to the US government. When he sent in his first label with "Open other end" on it, it was returned with an instruction to remove these words. The proprietor replied that if the government would guarantee to pay all damages claimed by anyone who had tried to open the wrong end, then he would do as instructed. He never had a reply.

John Evans, Marlow, Buckinghamshire


Fair attacks

Leonard Doyle (21 August ) reports: "Barack Obama has launched a sustained and sharply negative advertising campaign against his Republican opponent, John McCain." I note that all of the ads referred to in the article attack Mr McCain's stance on issues. None attacks his personality, his celebrity or any other personal characteristic. This kind of negativity I can live with. If Mr McCain does the same, it will be a good, clean campaign.

James C Lange, Pompano Beach, Florida, USA

Glitter's crimes

I agree wholeheartedly with Matthew Norman (Opinion, 22 August), that his views in respect of the sexual abuse of children are worth "incalculably little"'. In his article, Mr Norman demonstrates woeful ignorance of this dreadful crime against those who are children, not "underage" or "pre-pubescent sexual partners" as he describes them. Whilst I would never condone the persecution of any individual, whatever their past crimes, I find Mr Norman's public support for Gary Glitter (a convicted sex offender) quite unnecessary and totally offensive.

Janet Collins, Liverpool

Tribes in peril in Peru

Perhaps most illustrative of President Garcia's disregard for indigenous peoples is his attitude to the 15 uncontacted tribes living in the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon ("Peru's army on standby as jungle unrest grows", 21 August). Garcia is opening the Indians' territory to oil and gas exploration and doing nothing to prevent illegal loggers invading. This is bringing violence and diseases against which the Indians have no immunity; contact with one tribe killed half its members. The tribes' lands are legally protected in theory, but these tribes now face destruction.

Stephen Corry, Survival International, London EC1

Barrages and fish

Tidal barrages do not, as Lord Smith of Finsbury asserts, destroy the fish populations of everything up the river system from the barrier ("Stark warning on Britain's shrinking coast", 18 August). Long- term studies of the Rance tidal power station near St Malo on the Breton coast have shown that the estuary has had a rich and varied ecology once the patterns of sediment distribution and currents within the basin settled down after construction.

David Nowell FGS, New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Errant apostrophes

Eddie Price's letter apologising for returning to the problem apostrophe (23 August) is printed just a couple of pages after the article on Catherine Millet, in which you refer to "Jacque's life".

Cate Gunn, Colne Engaine, Essex