Pupils are being encouraged to look at learning another language as a benefit, not just another subject. Alison Thomas reports.
"We are an airline but we could equally be a paint company or any other kind of business. Your customer base is not limited to this country any more. People who can converse in the native tongue are the ones who get the orders. And that is going to happen more and more." The speaker is Steve Parrott, personnel director of Flybe; his audience is a group of Year 11 students from Sidmouth Community College in Devon.
He has come into school to persuade them that continuing with languages is a good career move and that they should perhaps also take up a new one.
"Don't think of it as just a subject. Think of it as a benefit," Steve continues. "If we have two candidates for a job, both with the same qualifications, we'll choose the one with a language." What is more, he is prepared to pay for it. Employees with conversational skills receive an extra pound;500, and for those who are fluent the reward is pound;1,000 for each language.
For head of modern languages, Rob Derbyshire, Steve's visit marks the beginning of what he hopes will become an increasingly fruitful partnership. Future plans include taking sixth-formers round Exeter airport to see first hand how languages are used and inviting the personnel director to a Year 9 technology and languages evening. In the meantime, he has been investigating ways of fulfilling a request for a new course in Year 12. Steve Parrott believes Spanish is a key language in the global market - and he was very persuasive.
Flybe is one of 13 Business Language Champions (BLC), an initiative co-ordinated by the Regional Language Network and Comenius South West, with funding from the DfES. The pilot scheme has run its course but the intention is that partnerships will endure. "Our role is to bring people together and support them in the early stages," explains Dr Anne Davidson Lund, assistant director, business and lifelong learning strategy, CILT the National Centre for Languages. "Once the relationship is established, they should be able to motor ahead and we can gradually withdraw."
Funding has now been secured for a modest expansion of the scheme. "We are looking to set up at least one partnership in each English region. The pilot has shown that the model works in a variety of circumstances and with companies of different sizes, sectors, and organisational structures," she says.
The pioneers certainly cover a wide range, from household names like Reuters, HSBC and the Met Office to smaller enterprises. Activities have been equally varied. Company representatives have come into schools, hosted student visits and arranged work placements.
For their part, students have worked with authentic company literature, compiled multilingual resources and created marketing materials. One group even produced a CD to be used by the public, while another contributed an article to a company newsletter which is distributed globally.
This is just the beginning, for relationships take time to develop, all the more so as conflicting commitments can get in the way. Devising appropriate work experience can also prove difficult, as Year 10 students from John Cabot City Technology College in South Gloucestershire discovered when they struggled to cope with corporate German at HSBC. "HSBC thinks the French website is a little easier and has suggested a mini project for our dual linguists next year. This time we were feeling our way, but we have learned a lot, and hope that we can now tailor it better to suit students' needs,"
says Linda Bridgeman, second in International Studies at John Cabot.
Indeed, lessons have been learned on both sides. If few teachers have a working knowledge of the business world, the same holds true in reverse.
"It has given companies an insight into how things have changed since their day," says Anne. "Many were horrified to discover that languages are no longer compulsory from the age of 14. It made them all the more enthusiastic about getting involved because they saw the value of it."
The value is also apparent in trade figures cited in a new CILT booklet called Talking World Class. These show that in countries where English is spoken, we have a healthy balance of payments, but in those where it is not, we buy more than we sell.
Learning languages has other benefits too. At a gala dinner celebrating BLC achievements, Isabella Moore, director of CILT, noted that it creates "well-rounded individuals who are confident and outward-looking, able to make connections, think flexibly, communicate articulately and appreciate cultural differences."
Every languages teacher shares her view. The challenge lies in persuading pupils to share it too.
For information and case studies see www.rln-southwest.comblc
* To get involved, contact your regional Comenius centre www.cilt.org.ukcomeniusindex.htm
* Talking World Class can be read online at www.cilt.org.ukpublicationspdfTWC.pdf
Monks Park School in Bristol has established an unusual link with the South West UK Brussels Office, which represents the interests of the region in the EU. European officer Marcus Scheuren is their contact and his message to Year 9 was that learning foreign languages enhances career opportunities in the increasingly open market of Europe. "In Brussels too, although English is the official language, we prefer to employ linguists," he told them, adding that his own team includes a Greek director, a Belgian office manager and himself - a German with Scottish roots.
French and English were the languages used on this occasion, when pupils gave a short presentation on their school and quizzed their guest about his work, life in Brussels and the languages he speaks. This was part of a special languages day that kicked off with croissants for breakfast in Cafe Rouge and continued with a fact-finding internet project on the capital of Belgium. Modern languages teacher Sadie Bendall is planning further interchanges through a videoconferencing link.
Oldfield School in Bath pupils prepared brochures as part of their first joint project with South West Tourism. In Year 8 these took the form of an alternative guide to Bath for young children from abroad, while Year 10 compiled a booklet of key phrases in French and German following research in the field. "Around 40 students interviewed various employers in groups of four or five," explains head of modern languages, Marie-France Perkins.
"Their brief was to find out how languages are used, where they add value and what sort of expressions are useful." Some met the curator of the Museum of East Asian Art, who speaks Chinese, German and French; others tried out the multilingual interactive displays at the Roman Baths. A third group enjoyed an oriental welcome in a Japanese guest house, while those who visited Bath Spa Hotel discovered that candidates with languages have an edge when applying for jobs here.
"They already knew that foreign tourism is important to the city but had not realised to what extent," says Marie-France. Another point to emerge was that while tourists abroad are often greeted in their own language, visitors to the UK are not so lucky. "That might put some people off coming. Not everyone speaks English," she says.