A DECLINE in language skills has raised concerns over the future capabilities of the United Kingdom's government, states a recent study by the British Academy. The report, Lost for Words: The Need for Languages in Security and Diplomacy, is the first of its kind to systematically review how language capacity within the UK government affects diplomacy, national security and defence.
The British Academy is the UK's national academy for the humanities and social sciences, its director Dr Robin Niblett, states, "languages are a critical tool through which UK diplomats can deepen their knowledge and build the trust that is necessary to promote and protect British values and interests internationally. Language skills should be seen as a highly desirable asset for all government staff and not simply as the preserve of a cadre of language specialists".
Britain has long prided itself, and rightfully so, that English is the language of international commerce, science and entertainment. The fact that the revered British Academy – which is independent of the UK government – is so concerned at the lack of language proficiency in the workings of state shows the seriousness of the problem.
Dr Niblett continues, "In an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, language skills are gaining rather than losing their relevance".
This mantra is as applicable to the world of business as it is to the mechanics of government. Good communications skills – both written and oral – as well as correct usage of languages other than your own native tongue are increasingly important in our modern globalised world.
A recent report from YLE (Finland's national public-broadcasting company) has stated that over 85% of Finnish start-ups aim immediately for international markets – ignoring the domestic marketplace, or at least placing it firmly in second place. A similar pattern shows itself many countries with highly industrialised, mixed economies – especially those where software developers are major players.
Forward-thinking entrepreneurs, who are interested in internationalisation, must be able to think globally and have an understanding of different cultures. Good communications between companies, whether that be through English or any other language, are the basis of the trust which leads to good business relationships. Similarly, getting your message across on your website, through marketing or in presentations is hugely important.
In business, diplomacy, or even within the intelligence community, ambiguity is not an option. Your message must be clear, and likewise you cannot afford to misinterpret the message being conveyed to you. Ptahhotep, vizier to the royal court in Egypt in the 25th century BC, said, "Be a craftsman in speech that you may be strong, for the strength of one is the tongue, and speech is mightier than all fighting".
Good business and diplomacy are based on trust, but they are often also a battle of wits – one where making your case clearly and confidently can be the difference between being on the winning side, or the losing side.
Investment in education from the earliest stages is one of the conclusions of the Academy's reports. Regardless, Lost for Words has found that future 007s must have good linguistic skills and be confident communicators to do their work effectively – in other words 'shaken, but not slurred'.
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