Speaking up for Languages at Labour Conference 2011


Today, Europe celebrates the 10th Annual European Day of Languages, a European Union initiative to appreciate linguistic diversity in Europe and promote language learning.

You might think it a bit of an anorak subject, and perhaps it is, but as a trainee interpreter of French and Spanish, it’s my anorak subject.

Britain cannot afford to lose languages, and it cannot afford to rely on the popular myth that everybody speaks English.

Ironically, it is only because English is widely spoken that we have a responsibility to promote, learn and use foreign languages.

As the party of openness and diversity, this should be a core Labour principle in foreign policy and in British diplomacy.

In the European Union, if a meeting cannot find any available English interpreters, that meeting is cancelled. Delaying the exchange of ideas, slowing down government, and hindering reform.

That’s bad for Europe, and bad for Britain.

In Brussels, Britain is often underrepresented because of a lack of language professionals.

In Business, Britain loses out to foreign enterprise because of a lack of language professionals. That means Labour loses the job creation and economic growth that goes with it.

English may be the lingua franca in many countries, but companies have to speak to customers in their own language.

So the business that do well are the business that go global.

As globalisation continues, languages are an obviously vital tool. Forging friendships, breaking barriers and sealing deals.

The Labour Party must be open to Europe.

Britain in the world needs languages, which is why, on the 10th European Day of Languages, Labour must not let Britain get tongue-tied or lost in translation, but be ready to promote, encourage and develop languages professionals.

Thank you.