[lg policy] Kinnock: We need a Chief Government Linguist to promote modern languages

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Nov 27 11:06:58 EST 2018


Kinnock: We need a Chief Government Linguist to promote modern languages
Written by:

   - Stephen Kinnock MP


   - The House Magazine

Posted On:
*26th November 2018*

If the UK is to talk – and be heard – around the world in the post-Brexit
era we need a voice in government that is dedicated to modern languages,
says Stephen Kinnock MP.
[image: At a time when the UK is arguably at its most multicultural, and
multilingual, we need to harness the language skills that exist on our
doorstep, writes Stephen Kinnock] At a time when the UK is arguably at its
most multicultural, and multilingual, we need to harness the language
skills that exist on our doorstep, writes Stephen Kinnock
Credit:
PA Images

Languages are a vital part of our society and economy and yet their
importance is neglected and overlooked.

Being able to speak directly to those we deal with is an essential part of
being a global citizen. But in the United Kingdom, the number studying a
language is declining year after year.

The highly developed intercultural skills that come with learning another
language are absolutely vital for successful trade and diplomacy,
peace-making and peacekeeping. But the subject has no dedicated advocate in
government.

Despite their importance, it's a sad fact that modern languages continue to
face a major threat in the UK, with numbers across educational sectors in
decline.

In summer 2018 just 3,000 students sat German A-levels, which represents a
drop of 16 per cent on last year and a 45 per cent fall since 2010. French,
which is traditionally the most popular language in schools, has also
suffered a steep decline.

It is a tragic situation that we cannot allow to continue, otherwise we
face the very real prospect of losing these skills just at the time when
they are more essential than ever.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in a report released this
month, *Educating for Business*, singled out the need to get language
teaching “right” as essential to achieving the government’s ambition for a
Global Britain.

I believe that we need a Chief Government Linguist to take control of the
situation: a civil service role that can coordinate and support policy in
relation to languages. They will be a recognisable ‘go to’ position
identified with languages with the ability to influence policy; someone who
can think strategically and work across departments.

Currently, despite many positive initiatives to boost languages, policy
relating to languages appears fractured and needs someone to guide it at a
central level.

All too often languages are pigeon-holed as being the responsibility of the
Department for Education, when in fact the ability to communicate
effectively across the globe is vital in many departments, from the
Ministry of Defence to the Department for International Development.

We need someone who can provide that overview and help Britain enjoy the
remarkable benefits of better language skills.

Research work funded by Government through the £16million Open World
Research Initiative managed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
(AHRC) will explore the way learning languages has the power to improve our
society – and even our health.

For example, studies have shown that there are significant cognitive
benefits to speaking more than one language. There is clear evidence that
bilingualism can stall dementia for around four years and can dramatically
improve stroke recovery. Evidence is also beginning to emerge that learning
and practising a language later in life can also bring important cognitive
benefits.

And yet there is still no UK-wide languages policy, as language is a
devolved matter.

At a time when the UK is arguably at its most multicultural, and
multilingual, we need to harness the language skills that exist on our
doorstep and at the same time recognise that modern languages have a value
and importance in our contemporary society, helping social cohesion and
developing cultural awareness.

The world is changing, fast. The 21st-century economy will provide
opportunities for curious, culturally aware citizens with broad
communication skills.

An appreciation of modern languages can help underpin that outward-looking
mentality. But we need to act now, as it’s hard to turn the tap on when
languages infrastructure disappears. Linguists are not made overnight.

I am asking my fellow Parliamentarians to give some thought to the value of
languages, and what the UK would lose if they disappear.

We can take action and for a modest investment ensure there is someone that
makes sure issues around languages are better supported at an official
level.

*I will be sponsoring an event on Wednesday 28th in the Jubilee Room
between 4-5pm showcasing modern languages research, and discussing issues
facing languages in the UK. I would encourage parliamentary colleagues to
come along and learn more from a range of researchers and stakeholders.*

*Stephen Kinnock is Labour MP for Aberavon *
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-- 
=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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