A modern tower of Babel

Strolling down Piccadilly is often a polyglot experience. Ladies in fur coats and gentlemen with velvet collars murmur richly in French, Italian or Russian. But step into the offices of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority at number 83 and you will find that there too they speak in many tongues. Since the New Year, the authority's 600 employees have been able to learn a language in their lunch hour - from another member of staff.

The initiative, which arose after consultation on employees' wishes, is proving so popular that 120 are already signed up and there is a waiting list of more than 15.

Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, German and Welsh are all available, some at both beginners' and intermediate level, and Arabic will be on offer from March. Classes are restricted to a maximum of 20 and the teachers are properly trained.

Those linguists who had no teaching qualification have taken an eight-week course from those who had - in their lunch hour. The Diary's informant, who has signed herself up for Spanish, Italian and French, says she's "loving it." Transformed her lunch hour, has it? "Made use of it," she replies.

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