From education to employment

Exclusive with Alan Corbett, retired Squadron Leader

The newspapers are full of articles on Government initiatives to encourage learning foreign languages as a means of maintaining our trading position and creating jobs. All good stuff and I do not argue with the logic. However, it seems to be that calling the citizens to learn languages to maintain market position is unlikely to result in anything tangible. The one argument that is hitherto missing ““ and the key to success ““ is persuading the people that learning languages enriches lives and creates opportunities for personal development, out of all proportion to the academic effort entailed.

Maybe I am a good example. I am very happy to do my bit for further education; the nine to five in Reading, but I was delighted to assist when my ex employer ““ the RAF ““ asked me to take four weeks to act as interpreter during military manoeuvres in Morocco. Given that my employment involves managing language training, my boss gave me the time as personal development. The task involved managing all administrative and logistical aspects of the road convoy there and back, and “in theatre communications” whilst operating in a temporary air base. Thus I travelled with the team from Santander in northern Spain to Marrakech in Morocco. I was then the liaison officer for all local contacts, such as with contractors and gendarmerie. An experience of a lifetime, and I was paid (well) to do it.

Surely it is by promoting similar options offered by language mastery that we will persuade others to study. I know from teaching languages that motivated British students are superb linguists ““ much better than our European peers ““ if only because pronunciation of foreign languages is easy, whilst mastering English phonetics is virtually impossible for a non native speaker.

Let us continue promoting language learning by every means ““ including macro economic arguments ““ but with a focus on the individual and the wonderful opportunities that await those who are willing to spend a few hours every week learning a language at a local college.

And, yes, as a result we will surely see more jobs and prosperity, to the benefit of all.

Alan Corbett, Association of South East Colleges; [Retired] Squadron Leader with the RAF.


And in related news, the government announced yesterday that migrants wishing to settle in the UK must first pass English language tests.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: “It is essential that migrants wishing to live in the UK permanently recognise that there are responsibilities that go with this”.

According to guidance released by the Home Office, prospective settlers will also have to pass knowledge of life in the UK tests that will maximise their contribution to the economy, and assist into their quick assimilation into UK communities.

He added: “Having a good grasp of English is essential in order for them to play a full role in society and properly integrate into our communities”.

“It is a sign of our success that the UK’s work in this area has attracted considerable interest in other countries. Australia, for example, has recently launched a public consultation to gather views on the possible introduction of a similar system there”.

Related FE News articles:

Language Learning Needs “Urgent Action” ““ 28/11/06

“ESOL Exams Should Be Fit For Purpose” ““ 24/11/06

“Give Language Ideas A Go” ““ 24/11/06

FE Language Learning In Decline ““ 02/11/06

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