THERE’S a real need for cunning linguists in business right now. Linguists, obviously for their ability to converse fluently in French, German, Italian, Spanish, American, even English (a long forgotten language in my view). And cunning because they need to convince potential employees that their language ability is really all that is necessary to enable them to do the job – whatever that job might be – and take home a premium salary as a reward.

Personally, I speak lots of languages: a smattering of school girl French (Marie-Claire et Jean Paul blah blah); a little German (“das is doch nicht moglich,” drummed into us by our teacher prior to a school trip to Berlin in anticipation of meeting German school boys); I speak “mother” (don’t you dare or you’re grounded); also “wife” (don’t you dare or you’re grounded); I’m fluent in “daughter” (don’t do that, you’re embarrassing me); and “sister” (I’m sorry for embarrassing you). Finally, I learned “journalese” at the feet of masters (my editor will sack me if I don’t go back with an exclusive interview and a pic of your dead/maimed/lost child).

But seriously, we really don’t pay enough attention to languages, and learning them, in this country.

What brought it home to me has been the coverage of the war on terror in Afghanistan, particularly the early focus in the hours and days immediately after the twin tragedies in New York and Washington. Our news reporters flocked to the Middle East to interview the local people, speaking in their Queen’s English and expecting these people, most of whom haven’t had the benefit of a school education, to understand and be able to share their views in English. Most of them could.

How many of us could have chatted away in Afghan, or Hindu, or Urdu? Very few, I would imagine, yet these people could communicate effectively in our language. I found it quite humbling.

We have such a lack of focus on languages in our education system. My daughter has been learning French at nursery since the age of three. I think that’s wonderful, it’s just unfortunate that it isn’t wider spread and an integral part of our children’s education.

Languages shouldn’t be optional, they should be compulsory.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the French and other Europeans hate speaking English to us, we make no effort at all to learn their language and expect, indeed demand, our European counterparts to speak to us in our mother tongue.

You see, what annoys me is that we revere Europeans with the ability to speak several different languages and we try our damndest to attract them to our businesses and then we pay them significantly over the odds to keep them motivated.

What I believe we should be doing is spending money on training our own kids – compulsorily – to speak at least two other languages at school. But that will take time to work, for linguists to leave our schools and enter the work place with more meaningful qualifications than just a handful of Highers.

In the meantime, we should be focusing on training our employees to speak additional languages. Not only do they learn a communication skill that is important to our businesses, but we are giving them something of value to take away. It stands out on a CV and it’s something they can share with their families: my daughter loves “teaching me” the new French words she has learned that day.

So with all the talk about lack of skills in this country and global organisations upping sticks to cheaper and better skilled linguist-ridden countries, our focus should be on up-skilling and new-skilling our own workforce: and where better to start than with languages?

From 10 Years Ago Today – where are we now? Further on? Or stuck in the same place?