Be the spy who loved languages

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
If past participles and adjectival endings do not inspire your 14-year-old pupils to learn languages, maybe the promise of a career as a spook will tempt them.

Linguists are in demand at MI5 - perhaps the only public body in which civil servants are portrayed as good-looking, daring and glamorous in a prime-time BBC drama, Spooks.

Although, unsurprisingly, the secret service is less interested in people who can order an ice cream in Spanish than those with fluent Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati, Persian, Kurdish, Pushtu, Russian (with a second language), Bengali, Fujianese or Tamil.

According to its website, speakers of these languages are needed to translate and transcribe "overt and secret information" and, if you have such skills, it offers a starting salary of pound;21,000.

But despite a welcoming website, the service still clings to some secrets.

Enquiries about whether GCSE French, German or Spanish would be useful, for example, are rebuffed.

A Home Office spokeswoman (MI5 does not talk to the press directly) said she could not divulge such information.

She said: "All I can say is that languages wouldn't be a disadvantage, but the languages you mention are not as much of an advantage as Arabic."

The most popular career for language graduates is in business services - which one in four enters.

About one in 10 goes into either sales or banking, and 8 per cent into teaching.

In comparison, interpreting or translation is considered by only 1 per cent of language graduates, according to statistics from the University of Bangor.

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