Monthly Archives: July 2013

Time to change the way we teach foreign languages

I might be something of a communications geek, but I adore the challenges and excitement of communication. Humankind is, as far as we know, the species with the most highly developed sense of communication and language and so, to me, communication is part of the very essence of being human.

I am interested in the whole range of communications from technological developments such as blogs and Twitter, to corporate communications and foreign languages.

Learning a foreign language enables us to communicate with fellow human beings in other countries and from other backgrounds and cultures. The teaching of foreign languages has always interested me, though not being a teacher, I can only speak from the perspective of a learner.

The world has changed a great deal since I studied German. Back then it was not uncommon to pick up scientific journals – I also studied chemistry – in which research papers were published in German, French or Russian, with only a brief English abstract, if you were lucky. I remember once ‘deciphering’ a pharmaceutical paper that was published in Danish. Today, almost all such papers would be published in English.

Although, I no longer use my German in the working environment, I still value its use when I visit Germany as I gain so much more, I believe, than if I relied on the English spoken by the locals. And as I socialise with a number of Germans, it is so useful to be able to speak German. We often have great debates about the finer nuances between the two languages. I remember a recent discussion in German about the difference between ‘naughty’ and ‘nasty’ in English. My German friend was intrigued by the difference between ‘You naughty girl’ said to someone of six years of age and someone of 42!
Foreign language teaching
What has always concerned me about foreign language teaching in the UK is the way it has typically focused on one or two languages. In countries which do not have English as a mother tongue, it goes without saying that the first foreign language you teach should be English, as the lingua franca for most of the world’s business community.

For the UK, however, the decision is much more difficult. For historical, cultural and geographical reasons, the first choice of foreign language here has been French, German or Spanish, with Russian and Mandarin coming in a distant second place.

But in reality the needs of our population is not to learn a language in great detail. I know plenty about the use of the extended attribute in scientific German. What I believe would be better for students is to learn half a dozen languages more superficially.

Not only will this increase the chance that, when visiting a foreign country, you have some basic grasp of the local language but, from a commercial point of view, future business people will be able to at least understand some of the deliberations taking place around them.

I am convinced that the general reliance on English has not stood the UK economy in good stead when it comes to exporting to overseas markets.

Obviously, there will always be a need for some students to study one or two languages in depth, in order that they can become translators or journalist or whatever, but what I’d like to see is that the first two years of language teaching, as a minimum, focuses on basic salutations in languages including Welsh, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian and Spanish.

In fact, it doesn’t really matter which languages they are, the key is that we empower people to have a better understanding of their fellow human beings, wherever on the globe they are.

Independents’ Day shows that independent stores can thrive

Eight Day logoThe Eighth Day – Manchester’s independent vegetarian cafe and healthfood shop – threw open its doors on July 4 to celebrate Independents’ Day and Co-operatives Fortnight.

The Oxford Road based co-operative business is celebrating four decades of independent retailing in the city and has recently been awarded ‘Best Independent Retailer’ in the Natural & Organic Awards 2013.

At a time when many retailers are facing increasing challenges on the high street, Ursula Gothard of the Eighth Day says innovation and focus on changing consumer needs has been key to their success.

“The Eighth Day has always been a strong ethical business and this is very important to many of our customers, but over the years we have always kept pace with changing customer demands and adapted our business to suit.

“We have seen large supermarket chains increasingly encroaching on our territory by stocking more vegetarian and organic products, but being 100% vegetarian still pays dividends for us, as our customers know that we have sourced the best vegetarian products available.”

For example, the Eighth Day has stayed ahead of the competition by sourcing special vegetarian products such as nutritional supplements, vegan wines, raw foods and cruelty-free body care products. Many of the products stocked are only available in Manchester at the Eighth Day.

Says Ursula: “Over 80% of the products we stock are supplied by independent businesses and this ethos is important to us and our customers.”

Sales of organic and quality foods have held steady during the recession and the Eighth Day has even grown staff numbers over the past few years, in spite of the economic situation.