[lg policy] Discussion: What are you thoughts on a workplace language policy?

Kate Brett kbrett at CAMBRIDGE.ORG
Mon Mar 12 11:00:10 UTC 2012

I suppose it's a question of what the policy is for and how far it goes.

I never thought I would find myself posting about the practice of the 
British army back in colonial times, but I think this may be of 
interest/relevance, so here goes. During WW2 my dad was a junior officer 
(white British, of course, back then!) in charge of West African engineers 
doing infrastructure work in Burma/Myanmar. He explained to us that the 
language of the army was English (as far as giving instructions, making 
reports etc. was concerned) but when I quizzed him about whether this 
applied to the Africans when they were working, marching, cooking etc. he 
said of course not, amongst themselves they would speak their own language 
and sing their own songs (he was emphatic about the importance of 
singing). He contrasted this with an experience when they were working 
with a South Asian unit, whose officer (indigenous Indian) seemed unable 
or unwilling to pass on orders to his troops, so a task was not properly 
performed, and eventually the poor man broke down in tears and said they 
spoke a different language from him so communication was impossible.

All sorts of lessons to be learnt here: communication is essential, so 
obviously a lingua franca is needed, whatever it might be; but there needs 
to be common sense applied to when the lingua franca is to be used and 
when (much of the time) language choice is left up to the individual. 
'English only' (better, 'English encouraged'?) is only acceptable in so 
far as it helps promote necessary communication and should not mean 
'nothing but English' in my view as that devalues other individuals and 
their languages.

Kate Brett
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