Calls are strengthening from MP’s and the Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for the appointment of a Chief Government Linguist to help policy makers recognise the importance of languages and to help halt the steep decline in British Multilingualism.
The AHRC’s Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), which has been managing a £16 million investment by the UK government, has been exploring ways in which languages can help improve policymaking in areas such as international relations, trade, defence, education and community cohesion in a post-Brexit Britain. The found that the implementation of a Chief Government Linguist, who would operate like the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, would help promote languages in governmental policy-making. The OWRI states the adviser would work as ‘a champion for languages both within and outside government.’
Speaking at the ‘Languages and the Future of the UK’ event organised by the Labour MP for Aberavon Stephen Kinnock, Janice Carruthers, Professor of French Linguistics at Queen’s and Leadership Fellow in Modern Languages with the AHRC, said:
“Internationally, as the UK forges new relationships around the world, speaking the language of those with whom we are doing business, or negotiating sensitive issues, opens the door to a completely different level of intercultural understanding, with better outcomes for diplomacy, peace-building, defence, health and trade.
“At a local level, community cohesion – urban and rural – is reinforced if we value the languages that are so central to the identity of our immigrant communities, and the indigenous languages of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
“In both Whitehall and the devolved administrations, support for languages in departments of education is clearly vital if we are seeking to ensure that future generations have strong language skills… But it is also important that languages are embedded in policy across a range of government departments and in government strategies where they are highly relevant.”
Over 60 MP’s, Lords and Civil Servants were present to hear Kinnock, a strong advocate of a Chief Government Linguist, said:
“The highly developed intercultural skills that come with learning another language are absolutely vital for successful trade and diplomacy, peace-making and cultural awareness. But the subject has no dedicated advocate in government. We need someone who can provide that overview and help the UK enjoy the remarkable benefits of better language skills.”
Kinnock lays out the dire situation faced by languages in the UK if the crisis is not adverted immediately. In his article in the House of Parliament magazine, Kinnock writes, ‘’In summer 2018 just 3000 students sat German A-levels, which represents a drop of 16% 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 a time when they are more essential than ever.’’
Consumed by Brexit, the government have yet to comment on either Mr. Kinnock’s or the OWRI’s findings, but perhaps this is exactly the type of scheme they should think about investing in to increase British competitiveness in a world which is slowly weaning itself from British and American dependence.
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