Expert: Languages ‘tool for more business’

Martin Hope, Director of the Language Rich Europe project, spoke to Outi Alapekkala at EurActiv in an interview about the project and more specifically about language and businesses. Hope also mentions the controversy raised by Language Rich Europe and the importance for businesses of hiring multilingual staff.

A fantastic language policy for business is where languages are supported and encouraged.

English is a tool, but it only goes part of the way towards creating intercultural understanding and complete relationship building. You have to learn each other’s language – not only English.

You can read the interview on EurActiv’s page.

Interview: Speaking Welsh, Living in Brussels

Stefanie Poulton moved to Brussels from North Wales in 2009. Today she works in British Council Brussels as PA to Regional Director EU. She shares her views about multilingualism and having become “Welsh Stef” in Brussels for our blog. Interview with Canan Marasligil.


Are you originally from Wales?
I was born in Chester, England and have two English Parents; my Mother is from Sheffield and my Father from Manchester. They moved to Wales the day before I was born…

The actual day before you were born?

Are they still in Wales?
Yes, they’re still living there today.

Did you learn Welsh at school?
I attended the local primary school where we were taught Welsh from very early on. During my secondary education the Welsh Assembly Government amended the curriculum, making Welsh a compulsory subject to be sat at GCSE level, when prior to this pupils had the option to discontinue it as a subject if desired at 14. I therefore studied it until I was 16.

Did you like studying Welsh?
At the time it wasn’t something I had wanted to necessarily study, as I felt learning another, more widely spoken language such as French or Spanish would be more beneficial. In hindsight, having grown up in Wales I now recognise the importance of language learning in relation to the shaping of identity and culture and although my Welsh is pretty basic and something which I am unlikely to use again, I think learning it and growing up in Wales has impacted on me in more ways than I thought; Now in Brussels I am referred to as ‘Welsh Stef’ – something I don’t necessarily consider myself to be!

How did learning Welsh affect who your cultural identity?
While I was growing up, learning Welsh always felt a bit alien to me.  I knew that because I lived in Wales, in school we were expected to learn it.  However with it being a language you would rarely hear being spoken and not coming from a Welsh background and mixing with friends who were in a similar position to me, it often led to some confusion and perhaps some resentment to it.  The year I was choosing my options for my GCSE’s is when the Welsh Assembly Government made learning Welsh compulsory across the curriculum until the age of 16.  I don’t think this contributed to myself having any feelings of being Welsh, but perhaps the opposite!  I suppose it began to change when I left Wales for University and then moving to Belgium. As soon as you mention where you come from people are very interested in whether you can speak Welsh or not, it is usually one of the first questions! And then I feel quite proud to answer that I learnt it at school and am able to explain a bit about the language, its uses in Wales – how and where it is spoken and its history and origin, which people do seem interested in, given its reputation of a ‘dying’ language.

What place does Welsh have in your personal and professional lives today? Today, apart from the name I have inherited, Welsh plays little part in personal and professional life.  Most of my friends, even if they were from Welsh speaking families have left Wales and when I return it is to visit my Parents.  I have definitely noticed an increase in the about of Welsh visible when I go back, on sign posts, in shops and on literature in my Parents house which get’s posted through the door and do feel proud that I can understand it where as perhaps the previous generation to me would not!

Do you think Welsh helps you learning other languages or opening up to other languages?
I’m not sure if learning Welsh made me want to learn other languages.  I think at the time because it felt forced upon me and because I struggled to contextualise it, it made language learning feel like a chore and therefore I didn’t appreciate its importance.  However today, this has of course changed and living in Brussels where there are so many languages and dialects being spoken around you, I feel pleased to have studied one other than my mother tongue, even if it can’t be used!


Stefanie Poulton works in the Brussels office as PA to Regional Director EU; Rosemary Hilhorst OBE. Stefanie moved to Brussels in 2009 from North Wales to work at the European Parliament as Parliamentary Assistant to a British MEP. Although a varied role, Stefanie particularly enjoyed the PA element to the position and was keen to further her career working in an international environment in this area. Having gained a Master’s Degree in Creative and Cultural Management from the University of Chester before moving to Belgium, the work of the British Council complements her personal interest in intercultural dialogue and cultural management.


The CEFR and diversity in the classroom

British Council Brussels and the Language Rich Europe Project have together organised a one-day conference on Understanding the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for better language assessment in a diverse society on 29 April 2011. The event gathered more than 100 participants and speakers from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and beyond. You can read a full report of the event and download all the presentations from the British Council Brussels website.
Our report writer Michael Creek has interviewed participants at the event and reports back on our blog.

How do we measure how well someone speaks a foreign language? And how do we compare a Polish native’s level of French with the Italian of a Belgian? When teachers and policymakers came together in Brussels for a conference on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), it was an opportunity not only to reflect on how we measure and compare proficiency in language learning, but also to take a look at what this entails for the diversity in our classrooms. The CEFR helps teachers to individualise learning, and encourages them to adapt to the diversity of their students.

To hear more from the participants, I asked language teachers about their views on the CEFR and the linguistic diversity in their classrooms.

Birgit Pauwels, teacher of English as a foreign language, CVO-KHNB, Brussels:

I’ve enjoyed the Conference so far, especially the presentation about English Profile. It gives a more practical implementation of CEFR. The topic search is really useful to get a clear idea of which levels are expected to use which vocabulary and grammar in relation to different themes.

My students classify themselves according to CEFR levels. Most of my students are international, and their backgrounds are very mixed, from PhD students to people who left school very young. When the classroom is multilingual, the students learn from each other more. And I always use students’ cultural backgrounds in the class. In one class we discussed advertising, and it was striking to hear from the students the differences between how women are portrayed in Italy compared to China, for example.

I always hear from foreigners: “oh, Belgians are lucky to have three national languages.” But language education in secondary school used to be better. Children can now opt out of the national languages, and this gives the wrong message. I learned Dutch, French, German and English at school and I think all four should be obligatory in Belgian schools.

Tomoko Nagase, teacher of Japanese as a foreign language, CLT, Leuven:

Japan is creating something similar to the CEFR, but my opinion is that the Japanese are really looking for a methodology. People in Europe know that CEFR is a framework – it’s not something you have to follow. Reading the Japanese equivalent of the CEFR, I also have the impression that some of the subtleties have been lost in translation concerning the vocabulary at each level.

Japanese is a very unusual language structurally, and to acquire it requires a different type of thinking. The Japan Foundation invests a lot to encourage Japanese learning abroad, particularly in the US and Australia. In Europe, Japanese is still seen as a very elite language, associated with business since the 80s. But the majority of my students are young people, interested in manga, anime and video games. This is a new trend in Japanese learning, and the Japan Foundation has built a great website ( based on this perspective.

Karine Saleck, teacher of English as a foreign language, Lycée Français, Brussels:

I have found the conference extremely interesting so far – especially the English Profile project. It’s great to get concrete examples of the CEFR in practice.

It’s been great to discuss diversity in the classroom too. The Lycée Français is an example of a school where the range of native languages among the students is very broad. But despite being very multilingual, the students are not very multicultural. Most have grown up in the same environment: the international community of expatriates in Belgium. So despite the mixed nationalities, there is an unusual lack of diversity, and perhaps it’s not as interesting as the mix of backgrounds you would find in other schools.

For more information visit:

Improved Learning of Irish – can language-orientation instruction help?

The Fryske Akademy in Leeuwarden (Netherlands) hosted a ASOAS-UCL / Mercator Research Conference ‘Languages of the Wider World’: Understanding Resilience and Shift in Regional and Minority languages.

Seán Ó Riain, an Irish diplomat currently on secondment to the European Commission, has presented the paper published on this blog post. His Ph.D thesis (Trinity College, Dublin, 1985) dealt with language planning in Ireland and Québec. All views expressed in this paper are personal to the author.  

Improved Learning of Irish – can language-orientation instruction help?
 Seán Ó Riain 

Research the propedeutic qualities of various languages to discover which second language is most likely to encourage subsequent language-learning. An innovative UK programme has been testing an alternative propedeutic approach since September 2006 (sections 4.2 and 6.4.1), and this may have implications for the order in which languages are learned.” 

From Recommendations of EU Civil Society Platform on Multilingualism (29 pan-EU organisations), final report, 30 March 2011
The Harris reports of 1984 and 2006, on the teaching of Irish in primary schools, showed that 96% of students from the Irish-medium schools master both languages, yet in the English-medium schools, despite some 12 years studying Irish as an obligatory subject, up to 70% of students make little progress. This had led to some criticism of language learning as “elitist”: the educational system has had the unintended effect of excluding the majority from a positive experience of multilingualism.

This presentation seeks to make four main points:

1)      It is generally accepted that any second language which has been thoroughly learnt will be helpful in subsequent language-learning. 

2)      Due to its unusually streamlined structure, a short course in Esperanto is particularly effective in preparing learners for subsequent language-learning. 

3)      The aim is not to learn a large amount of Esperanto, but a ‘language orientation course’, lasting 50 – 100 hours, covering the basic grammar of Esperanto and the 500 most frequently-used morphemes, the equivalent of 2,000 words in other languages. 

4)      A pilot scheme in an Irish primary school is recommended, to test whether and to what extent such a course could improve the learning of Irish, or the learning of French, German, etc. in a Gaelscoil (Irish-medium school). 

Shakespeare in different languages during the Olympics

It has long been recognised that Shakespeare, as well as a great playwright, has become an international language. We want to celebrate this international affection by welcoming Shakespeare enthusiasts – producers, performers and audiences – to experience his work in their own languages and dialects.

says Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director, as it is reported the BBC News website

And it is exactly what the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre will do during the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, giving the opportunity to the international audiences to experience Shakespeare in their own language(s), inside the Globe Theatre. Companies from around the world will participate in this special season, starting on 23 April and lasting 6 weeks.

Audiences will see The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu, The Tempest in Arabic, Julius Caesar in Italian, or Troilus and Cressida in Maori. Other languages will also include Lithuanian, Greek, Spanish, Turkish, …

A celebration of multilingualism, this project is also a very good way to open up to more international collaborations.

There is no information yet on the Globe’s public website, but you can read the press release with a list of the languages and plays to be performed.

Déjeuner thématique à La Monnaie: Eine Diskussion am Mittagstisch

RAB/BKO – Réseau des arts à Bruxelles/Brussel Kunst Overleg have organised a meeting about multilingualism in cultural institutions last month at the Brussels Opera House La Monnaie/De Munt. Our colleague Julia Kofler, from the British Council in Brussels, attended the event and is reporting back for the Language Rich blog… in German.

Donnerstag 31 Maerz : Reseaux des Arts Bruxelles, das franzoesischsprachige Netzwerk der kulturellen Institutionen in Bruessel und dessen flaemisches Pendant, das BKO luden zu einem Gespraech mit Broetchen ueber zwei und – Mehsprachigkeit im Bruesseler Kulturbereich. Die Veranstaltung fand, gerechter- und erfreulicherweise, auf Niederlaendisch  und Franzoesisch statt.

Els Van Volsem, Ausbildungsleiterin bei La Monnai/De Munt…oder bei De Munt/La Monnaie, ganz nach Bedarf, trug vor, wie die Thematik in dem staatlich subventionierten Konzerthaus und der Bruesseler Langzeitinstitution verarbeitet wird.

Bruessel ist in erster Linie der Sammelpunkt der flaemischen und wallonischen Kultur und Sprache. Was zusammenfuehrt, kann aber auch entzweien. So wird versucht, dem auf regionaler Ebene gegenwaertigen Kulturkonflikt, zumindest in der Hauptstadt entegenzusetzen und stattdessen Modell zu stehen fuer ein gegluecktes sprachliches Zusammenleben.

Bei La Monnaie/De Munt wird der franzoesisch-sprachige Text des Programmheftes ein Jahr auf die linke Seite und der flaemische Text auf die rechte Seite gesetzt, und das Jahr darauf das Ganze umgekehrt. Die Auskunft meldet sich hoeflich mit Bonjour, La Monnaie, comment je peux vous aider/ Goede dag, DeMunt, hoe kan ik u helpen ? Als waere dem nicht genug, wird den Mitarbeitern nahegelegt, doch bitte stets zu wechseln. Beim darauffolgenden Anruf heisst es dann: DeMunt, Hoe kan ik u helpen/ Bonjour, La Monnaie, comment je peux vous aider?

Aber nicht nur der Sprachgebrauch intern und mit dem Publikum, auch die Einstellung zu fremden Kulturen allgemein wurde angesprochen. So hat das Bruesseler Kulturangebot an exotischem Flair reichlich zugenommen: Afrikanisches Theater, Chinesische Oper, Balkan Festival und vieles mehr hat Einzug genommen in den staedtischen Saaelen. Und mit Erfolg: mehr und mehr werden dadurch die jeweiligen Gemeinschaften dieser Kulturen ins Theater oder ins Konzert gelockt. Das ist natuerlich ueberaus lobenswert, aber wie steht es mit der kuturellen Vielfalt innerhalb des Kulturmangements? Selten findet man Mitarbeiter aus anderen Laendern oder exotischem kulturellen Hintergrund, dabei ist Bruessel zu 47% anderssprachig , das heisst, Einwohner, die nicht franzoesische oder niederlaendische Muttersprachler sind: Ein klarer Nachteil fuer Sprachenvielfalt und –austausch innerhalb des Sektors.

Die Frage am Rande: Das Profil der Teilnehmer des Mittagsgespraechs bestand zum grossen Teil aus mittlerem Management und war weiblich. Kultur und Kommunikation sind an sich fast “naturgegeben” ein von Frauen sehr geliebter Bereich. Oder muss gefolgert werden, dass Sprachen und Sprachengebrauch von, im Kulturmanagement wie andersweitig meist maennlich besetzten, hoeheren Etagen weniger ernst genommen wird

What if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?

English teacher Patricia Ryan was invited to give a talk at TEDxDubai where she spoke about language loss and the globalisation of English.  Ryan tries to answer a few major questions around the globalisation of English: Is there a connection between the spread of English and the death of other languages? Is this another manifestation of McDonaldisation – the undesirable face of globalisation? Do we want to lose the variety of languages and all the rich culture that comes with them?

Patricia Ryan has been living and teaching in the Gulf for about 30 years, and as she explains in her talk, she has “seen a lot of changes.” She starts her talk with some scary statistics about the number of languages in the world, today = 6000, in 90 years = 600! “A language dies every 14 days” says Ryan, trying to understand if there is a connection with the globalisation of English.

Ryan was recruited by the British Council when she first arrived in Kuweit, along with 25 other English teachers, they were the first non Muslims to teach in the state schools in Kuweit. The major change Ryan has experienced is to see “how teaching English has morphed to be a mutually beneficial practice to becoming a massive international business that it is today.”

According to the latest university ranking, the best education is to be found in American and British universities.  Therefore everybody wants to receive an education in the West, but non native speakers will have to pass a test. Ryan asks if it is fair to judge a student on his or her linguistic ability alone. Imagine if Einstein had to pass a TOEFL test! English teachers STOP many many students to pursue their dreams based on English, “it can be dangerous to give too much power to a narrow segment of society” says Ryan referring to the English teachers.

Most of university research is done and published in English (papers, reviews, journals…), so Ryan asks “what happened to translation?” giving as an example the Islamic Golden Age during which Latin and Greek works have been translated into Arabic and Persian, then translated into the Germanic and Romance languages of Europe, and so “light shone upon the dark ages of Europe” says Ryan. She adds, “Don’t get me wrong, I am not against teaching English, I love it that we have a global language which we need today more than ever. But, I am against using it as a barrier.”  What Ryan is against is to equate the knowledge of English with intelligence (and she shows this picture of Bush reading upside down).

“Which is quite arbitrary” adds Ryan under the applauses of the audience. The giants upon which a lot of our knowledge stands today, like Einstein, did not have to pass an English test, “fortunately for the world” says Ryan.

English tests started in 1964 with TOEFL. Millions of students take these tests (TOEFL, IELTS and more) every year across the world.  These exams fees are prohibitive to many poor people “so we immediately are rejecting them” says Ryan.

If you can’t think a thought, you can be stuck, but if someone else speaking another language can think that thought, you can cooperate and work together. “When a language dies, we do not know what we lose” says Ryan.

You can read more about Patricia Ryan’s celebration of languages and cultures on her blog: Mind your languageS

Tire ta langue!

Tire ta langue est un programme radio sur France Culture qui explore la langue française et le multilinguisme à travers des discussions avec des philosophes, auteurs, acteurs, essayistes, linguistes, journalistes et autres.  Créée au milieu des années 1980 par Olivier Germain-Thomas et Jean-Marie Borzeix, directeur de France Culture, le programme était sous la responsabilité d’Antoine Perraud de 1991 à 2006.

Comme expliqué sur le site de l’émission, Tire ta langue explore différentes pistes à travers le thème de la langue:

  • La défense et l’illustration du français et de la francophonie, mais aussi la découverte d’une langue étrangère (Sommet ou journée de la francophonie. Quelle langue pour la science ? Le français malmené à l’ONU. Comment travaillent les commissions de terminologie ? …)
  • L’évolution du français contemporain, de ses variantes régionales ou corporatistes ; ceux qui s’en saisissent, ceux qui étudient une telle évolution (Les nouvelles formes d’argots. De la langue populaire au parler populiste. La langue de la Chine et des puces. La langue de l’écologie…)
  • L’analyse d’un auteur ou d’un genre littéraire (La langue de Marivaux, de Guyotat. La langue du canular. La polémique. Les comptines enfantines…).

 Vous pouvez écouter les différents entretiens sur le site de l’émission Tire ta langue sur France Culture.

Words Without Borders: ‘On Reviewing Translations’ Series

The online magazine for international literature, Words Without Borders, has launched a series to explore the ways that book reviews handle translation. As it is explained on the WWB website:

Reviewers and translators each have varied opinions on how translations should be discussed, and on who should be doing the discussing. At a recent panel on the future of book reviewing, review editors stressed the importance of translation coverage, though one admitted that he would rather pass on a translated book than assign it to a reviewer who might not “get it right.”  (Getting it right, according to him, means finding a reviewer with the ability to determine whether the translator has been faithful to the original language, and whether or not the translation “sounds” anything like the original text.) The issue came up again the following week, at a subsequent panel of book review editors. One made the point that there are essentially two kinds of reviews for translations, one for books that are appearing in the language for the first time, and another for books that have been translated before. Another editor said he expects an overall level of expertise from his reviewers on both the writer and the language, and a third said that a reviewer does not need to be a specialist in the language the book was written in, in fact she encouraged people to cover works from languages outside of their knowledge to follow their interest in contemporary literature.  

So far, WWB has published five articles from literary translators such as Edith Grossman, Daniel Hahn, Lorraine Adams and more. You can find a list of the published articles here.

Défendre le français, défendre la diversité culturelle

On parlait français hier au centre culturel de l’université d’Amsterdam Spui25. Margot Dijkgraaf, la directrice du centre, elle-même francophile, a partagé son enthousiasme pour la langue française lors de son introduction “Je suis heureuse que l’on parle français dans cette salle, et c’est rare!” dit-elle tout sourire. En effet, ce n’est que la deuxième fois qu’un événement en français est programmé à Spui25 depuis l’ouverture du centre en 2005. “Pour la première rencontre” explique Dijkgraaf, “nous avions invité Luc Ferry. La salle était bien remplie et au moment même où nous avons commencé à parler en français, une dizaine de personnes ont quitté la salle.” Dijkgraaf explique que Luc Ferry a accepté de continuer en anglais, “et une dizaine de francophones ont alors quitté la salle en guise de protestation!” La soirée aura finalement lieu en deux langues et le public s’étonnera même d’avoir pu suivre la rencontre en français. “C’est une situation typique pour le français au Pays-Bas” explique Dijkgraaf, car de nombreux francophiles ne pensent pas pouvoir suivre une rencontre en français mais s’étonnent de découvrir leurs capacités d’écoute dans une autre langue.

Cette seconde rencontre francophone qui se déroule au Spui25  est organisée dans le cadre du mois de la Francophonie par la Maison Descartes et l’Université d’Amsterdam UvA. Pour nous parler du thème “Le français comme langue diplomatique“, la Maison Descartes et l’UvA ont invité l’Ambassadeur de France aux Pays-Bas, Monsieur Jean-François Blarel.

Monsieur Blarel commence son intervention en expliquant pourquoi avoir choisi de parler du français comme langue diplomatique et non de la place du français juridique dans les institutions internationales. “Etant à La Haye, je défends la place du français dans les organisations internationales. Mais j’ai choisi aujourd’hui de vous parler du français comme langue diplomatique.” Dans son intervention, Monsieur Blarel revient tout d’abord sur l’histoire du français comme langue diplomatique, et lie ensuite son choix à l’importance de la diversité linguistique et culturelle.

Un peu d’histoire: l’évolution du statut du français comme langue diplomatique
Le français a été pendant deux sièlces et demi la langue diplomatique en Europe. Avant cela, le latin dominait. Ce n’est qu’à la fin du 16ème siècle que le latin commencera à s’effacer, avec en 1648 le traité de Westphalie rédigé en latin. “Trente ans plus tard, les traités se rédigent en français” explique Monsieur Blarel, donnant comme exemple le traité de Nimègue. Le français continuera à être une langue internationnale jusq’à la fin du 17ème siècle. A la question “Pourquoi le français est-il devenu cette langue universelle?”  Monsieur Blarel répond qu’il y avait trois facteurs importants:

- Le déclin du latin comme langue vivante. “Cela peut nous paraître incroyable mais le latin était encore une langue vivante au 17ème siècle” ajoute Monsieur Blarel. Le latin devient une langue pour les érudits, une langue morte. Le français est alors une langue vivante, capable de s’adapter aux évolutions.

- Le français devient, au détriment du Saint-Empire romain germanique la puissance culturelle de Rome.

- La diplomatie se met en place et le recrutement des diplomates change. “Ce n’est qu’à la fin du 16ème siècle, à partir d’Henri III, que l’on a des ambassadeurs permanents” explique Monsieur Blarel. C’est aussi à cette époque que se crée un ministère des affaires étrangères. De plus en plus, on enverra en mission des gestionnaires issus de la bourgeoisie maîtrisant le français plutôt que le latin, et non plus des écclésiastiques comme c’était le cas avant.

C’est le Traité de Versailles qui mettra fin à deux siècles et demi de la suprématie du français comme langue diplomatique. La conférence a lieu à Paris, mais aucun des chefs d’état, ni américain, ni anglais, ne sont francophones, hors Clémenceau est anglophone. La négociation se fera en anglais et le français n’est plus la langue diplomatique exclusive.

Langue et diversité
“La promotion du français doit s’inscrire dans le cadre de la diversité culturelle” explique Monsieur Blarel, “le français n’est pas réservé aux seuls français.” C’est un point très important auquel l’Ambassadeur est très attaché et en défendant la place du français à travers le monde, c’est aussi le multilinguisme et la diversité culturelle qu’il défend. Car en effet, défendre le français n’est pas que destiné aux français mais à tous ceux qui parlent et comprennent le français à travers le monde. A la question du modérateur Niek Pas concernant le terme de “Langue des résistances” utilisé par l’auteur du livre Quand l’Europe parlait français Marc Fumaroli, Monsieur Blarel répond: “Je suis d’accord et gêné par l’utilisation du mot résistance. Je ne vois pas le combat de la francophonie comme unique et de la résistance, mais de la diversité. C’est d’ailleurs pour cette raison que nous travaillons avec les autres groupes linguistiques [hispanophonie, lusophonie, arabophonie...]” Il ajoute, “Nous devons parler l’anglais, mais pas QUE l’anglais”.

En guise de conclusion, et tout à fait en ligne avec le projet Language Rich Europe, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur a affirmé la necessité de parler plusieurs langues: “Parler un minimum de trois langues me paraît indispensable.”