Britain – William Hague, the current British Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State, has set a new target to increase the number of UK officials who can speak Mandarin Chinese and other languages in an attempt to highlight the importance of linguistic diversity and knowledge for the British diplomacy. On Thursday, Hague opened a new language training centre in London which will offer courses to 1,000 officials per year. Although Hague aims for an increase of 40 percent of Mandarin Chinese speakers, 70 different of languages will be offered.
What Is to Blame?
The present state of language knowledge among British officials is a direct consequence of the Labour government’s decision to close down the foreign office language school in the middle of a wave of budget cuts. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a long tradition of funding private language tuitions for those diplomats who are moving overseas to fulfill their duties.
Another reason that has led to the current state of the linguistic panorama is the decrease, over the last ten years, in the number of students taking language A-levels and choosing degrees in foreign languages. Ultimately, this results in a decrease in the number of citizens who are capable of speaking any foreign language at all. Many diplomats have stated that they believe that the British still partly think everyone around the world speaks English. The situation has made it impossible for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to demand more than one language to new entrants to the diplomatic service.
The solution offered by Hague to the problem is the construction of an in-house school to compensate for the decline in foreign language speakers within the United Kingdom. Even in spite of the current period of economic distress and with a budget which is 2/3 of what it used to be, Hague has decided that investing £5 million in a new training centre is worth the effort. The school, located in the Office’s headquarters in King Charles Street, will be made up of 40 different classrooms.
Hague has commented that, when he first became foreign secretary in 2010, he realised that language, which he considers one of the basic skills a diplomat should have, was not being paid enough attention in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Ultimately, the move is a bid to increase the British diplomats’ influence in the world and within their very own country.