Tag Archives: Creative Multilingualism

Why language skills are a priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

This post, written by George Hodgson, originally appeared on the Creative Multilingualism blog on 11 January 2018. George Hodgson has been British Ambassador to Senegal and non-resident Ambassador to Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau since July 2015.

The first foreign language I really engaged with was Bengali. Most of the kids at my primary school in Tower Hamlets in East London were of Bangladeshi heritage. In the classroom, we sang Bengali songs. In the playground, we delighted in Bengali swear words. I’d be too embarrassed to own up to recalling the lyrics of a song about a frog, let alone the insults, but I will admit to still remembering how to count from one to ten.

At secondary school, I studied French, German and Latin up to GCSE. There was neither singing nor swearing. But we had great teachers, with a passion for languages and for sharing them – even with under-appreciative teenagers. I became more appreciative when, some years later, my rusty French was enough to strike up a conversation with an attractive French girl, now my wife.

As British Ambassador in Dakar, I speak more French on any given day than I do English. Without it, I just wouldn’t be as effective in my job. That, quite simply, is why language skills are a priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). This blog, by my colleague Danny Pruce in Manila, offers a nice insight into studying Tagalog full-time at the FCO’s in-house language centre.

Here in Senegal, I’ve been impressed by the language skills of the young British volunteers that I’ve met, working with great organisations like the International Citizenship Service or Project Trust in local communities, and living with host families. Many of them learn Wolof: it’s far more widely spoken than French, and Senegal’s real lingua franca.

Equally impressive are the language skills of ordinary Senegalese people. For a majority in Senegal, multilingualism is a way of life. The same is not quite true in the United Kingdom.

That said, there are of course millions of people in the UK who are multilingual speakers of recognised minority languages like Welsh or Gaelic, or of languages that have come to the UK more recently, like Polish or Punjabi … or indeed Bengali. There are over a million bilingual pupils at school in Britain.

The British Council’s recent Languages for the future paper is well worth a read. It argues that ‘in a new era of cooperation with Europe and with the rest of the world, investment in upgrading the UK’s ability to understand and engage with people internationally is critical’. I couldn’t agree more.

Part of that investment is, of course, about supporting language learning in schools, universities and beyond. But it’s also about encouraging and enabling people to make the most of the linguistic talents that we already enjoy as a country. And looking at how schemes which aren’t ostensibly about languages – like the International Citizenship Service – can contribute.

Creative Multilingualism

posted by Simon Kemp

Last Friday, Oxford University kicked off a four-year, multi-million pound programme of research, outreach and public events around the theme of Creative Multilingualism.

We’re looking at connections between the ability to speak or learn more than one language and creativity of all kinds. We’re convinced there are vast reserves of multi-language ability and language-related creativity even here among the British who so often see themselves as lacking the gift or enthusiasm for languages. As the project leaders themselves put it:

British society perceives itself as monoglot, but nothing could be further from the truth: many schools teach pupils with some 100 languages between them, and many workplaces are veritable hubs of multilingualism. Nationally, this is an under-valued resource, not only economically but also educationally and culturally. One aspect that is under-valued is the creative potential of a linguistic diversity that interacts productively with cultural diversity.

Even those of us who grow up using only one language are born with the capability of using more than one, and we never completely lose that talent. In fact we deploy it routinely in our day-to-day lives as we move between different linguistic contexts at home, at work or at school, and in leisure pursuits. This involves a continuous process of creative adaptation. When using our language skills, we draw all the time on an individual creative capability that may also inspire us to experiment with language in monolingual or multilingual language play or poetry.

Over the next four years, the online hub for the project will be here:

http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/

Please do check it out to see what events are planned, what the research strands are exploring, and how you or your institution might like to get involved.

It’s also an information hub on language learning in the UK. You can, for instance, find out about current issues in school language qualifications (including work to address A-level grading concerns) here.

Or see a breakdown of the kinds of jobs that language graduates go into after university here.

Or head over here to discover a wealth of bite-sized language facts, including which breakfast cereal goes Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! in German, and why Finnish people pace around hot porridge like a cat.

As the research programme develops over the course of the next four years, the Creative Multilingualism website will grow and grow. Please do check back from time to time to discover what’s new.