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Passport to success

The new head of CILT talks to Dorothy Lepkowska about the challenges she looks forward to sharing with teachers

The newly appointed director of CILT, the National Centre for Languages, has understood the value of languages throughout her working life, but Isabella Moore is about to take on her biggest challenge yet. She wants to see the national strategy for languages succeed, from establishing the primary entitlement to ensuring that enough linguists come through university.

It is a task she relishes, but knows will be tough. She can, however, lead by example. Her own life has been a remarkable and inspiring story of how knowledge of languages can open doors most would not think imaginable.

The 56-year-old says: "There is a big paradox in this country when it comes to knowledge of languages and attitudes towards language learning. In this multicultural country we have up to 60 languages being spoken among the pupils in some schools. Yet essentially this is still a monolingual nation.

I am passionate about the importance of young people embracing other cultures, and I'm convinced they cannot do this without a knowledge of languages. You cannot begin to understand another culture without at least having a stab at learning its language."

She adds: "There is a grave danger that if we do not take the learning of languages seriously then our young people will become isolationist and inward-looking. And they will not even really be experiencing the richness of their own country."

The daughter of a Polish mother and Scottish father, Isabella Moore speaks Polish, German and French fluently. She went to the University of Edinburgh, her native city, and her first job took her to 1970s Communist Poland and the Massey Ferguson tractor factory in Warsaw - an unlikely job for a history of art graduate.

"In those days I was in a pretty unusual position in being able to speak Polish fluently. It presented me with a fantastic opportunity for adventure," she says. "It is something young people need to think about - that other languages enable you to do unusual things. It is through those opportunities that the young get some of the most interesting options in life."

On returning to the UK with her husband-to-be David, she worked for other British companies involved in eastern and central Europe, and completed a diploma in translation.

She later set up her own company, Commercial Technical (COMTEC), offering technical translation and interpreting services to companies involved in exporting.

"I firmly believe that companies that invest in the language skills of their workforce increase their exports quite considerably," she says.

She has won recognition for her work combining industry and languages, and between September 2002 and June 2004 was president of the British Chambers of Commerce and vice-president of Eurochambres, the association of European Chambers of Commerce. She was awarded a CBE this year and has an honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University for services to industry.

So how does she believe we can ensure that Britain's language skills improve now that students are able to abandon the learning of foreign languages at the age of 14? To start with, the strategy for a foreign language entitlement in all primary schools by 2010 is a "massive challenge" towards that end, she says. "We want young people to be so enthused that they will want to continue up to and beyond key stage 3. Part of CILT's work is to support primary schools in building their capacity for this teaching."

And then what? "Everyone is concerned about what will happen post-14, but I am excited about that too - it is another massive challenge."

She sees initiatives such as the European Day of Languages and CILT's Languages Work campaign as vital to encouraging a greater take-up.

"These initiatives help young people look at career opportunities and make informed choices at GCSE and A-level. If we do not ensure they see the benefits of studying languages then fewer and fewer will be going on to study them at university, which would be a potential disaster for the nation and its economy."

CILT, the National Centre for Languages:

European Day of Languages: www.ecml.atedl

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