imageThere has been much chagrin recently in the dark nether regions of internet and in the unionist press, over the cost of Gaelic being promoted in public spaces.

For the record I like many, found the spat of interchanges over the subject manufactured and frankly insular. To those of us aware of the weight of history, it is a given that Scots Gaelic is relevant not only from a prospective of historic re-balancing but that also there is a heavy cultural and economic argument in favour of such promotion.

However the following post is not about the Scots, Doric, English, Orcadian and Gaelic divide but rather to how languages are treated from outside Scotland and Europe. A series of UK governments in their patch have been for the last 30 years utterly woeful in the encouragement of languages on a wholesale level or their utilisation in areas of industry, culture and diplomacy. This has also been exaggerated by having the luxury of being the natural speakers of a language of dominance in the exercise of political and economic affairs. Why bother learning another language? Why should this lack of depth and use in our skills be of concern?

But the world has been changing. With the ascendency of the BRIC nations has come their overtaking of Europe and the US in areas of heavy industrial now their politicians and intellectuals seek to further this trend. Already the focus in China (not withstanding the recent slump) has been a relentless drive to create, design and invest in light industry and technology. Their economies will depend on the creation and exchange of ideas that will drive further economic development. Despite the Anglo sphere’s monopoly on linguistic power it is wise to have a radical and holistic national strategy which gives nations an advantage when going to trade and develop diplomatic ties. A future independent Scotland will need to capitalise on linguistics as well as all its natural resources and its position as a centre of scientific crucible.

“But can the child from Penicuik, Dumbarton or Kingston upon Hull dream of taking off and just doing? Can they access another set of opportunities abroad and thus act as a connection back to Scotland developing Scotland’s economy further?”

Yet what of our economic armoury of linguistics? A nation such as Scotland can be a powerhouse that emphasises its variety in the amount of skills it can bring to bear. Not only are both the Scottish and UK governments record on language development and education woeful but it is very Eurocentric. I must put a caveat, that in my view the Scottish government has done wonders with native languages such as Scots, Gaelic, Doric etc.

The previous point is understandable seeing as our political classes are obsessed with forging closer ties or (in the case of the UK elite) breaking ties with Europe. They are not asking the fundamental questions. That in a world economy that is gearing away from the old world to newer rising areas; why are we focused on old skills and languages of old importance? Why should we be complacent about skilled persons hailing from other nations having access to our economy but having no access to theirs. Again I emphasise going beyond Europe, which will always be our base but not our limit. Scotland small?

For English only provides a skin surface approach to creative and industrial capacities. From experience I can tell you doing a branding exercise for a Chinese green technology company goes down far better when it’s done in Mandarin. Some Scots already have the skills but we must increase the chances for the young and for the cause of our nascent state.

Earlier lask year the Scottish government came under fire for its failure to effectively monitor The Confucius schools set up to aid the teaching and Mandarin and Chinese culture. There had been concerns raised by EIS that these were used to promote the Chinese government’s actions over Nepal and human rights. There were no such qualms in Sweden which became the first country in Europe to offer Chinese lessons to all schoolchildren under plans floated by the Swedish education minister in 2011.

“Some Scots already have the skills but we must increase the chances for the young and for the cause of our nascent state.”

Jan Björklund said giving future generations’ access to Chinese language tuition was crucial to national competitiveness. “I want to see Sweden become the first country in Europe to introduce instruction in Chinese as a foreign language at all primary and secondary schools,” said Bjoerklund, who heads the Progress Party, a junior member of the centre-right ruling coalition. “Not everyone in the business world speaks English. Very highly qualified activities are leaving Europe to move to China. Chinese will be much more important from an economic point of view than French or Spanish,” he said.

This point was of course at the time correct and supports my own experience working in the East. It additionally stands as much for Portuguese in the case of Brazil or Russian. When working for a communications company in London I had worked part time in Zurich and St Petersburg. On finding myself without employment after a contract reached its conclusion I decided to up sticks and go Hong Kong. I could only do so because I had the opportunity to learn languages at home and through extra courses at university. It was an expression of my own will and interest and certainly not out of a culture of institutional education at any early age.

But can the child from Penicuik, Dumbarton or Kingston upon Hull dream of taking off and just doing? Can they access another set of opportunities abroad and thus act as a connection back to Scotland developing Scotland’s economy further? Sweden has long been known for having among the highest level of English language skills outside the Anglo-Saxon world. Its proposed embrace of Chinese could be seen as a symbol of a shift in power towards Asia. I noticed at the time how during meetings I was often the only person from the British Isles able to communicate on the island and mainland. All the other contacts I made while working were German, Swedish, Australian, India etc.

“The recognition is there but the habit towards Euro centrism is limiting and disappointing.”

In the Language Learning in Scotland A 1+2 Approach by the Scottish Government Languages Working Group: Report and Recommendations; Recommendation 1states that: The Working Group recommends that schools offer children access to an additional language from Primary 1.

It stated that: “The Working Group considered the rationale for promoting specific languages but decided not to set a hierarchy of languages to be learned by pupils in Scotland. This is a matter for schools and local authorities to decide, taking account of the local context. The Working Group nonetheless believes that continuing to engage with our nearest neighbours in Europe will remain a priority for young people in Scotland.”

“Learning French, German, Italian and Spanish will continue to have an important place. There is, however, also a case to be made for taking account of new economies of the future, as Scotland has already started to do by encouraging the promotion of Chinese. The Working Group noted the strong case to be made for other languages, such as Portuguese (Brazil), Arabic and Russian, as well as other eastern European languages, including Slavonic languages.”

“A future independent Scotland will need to capitalise on linguistics as well as all its natural resources and its position as a centre of scientific crucible.”

The paper of 2011 was rigorous in its detail and determination to address Scotland’s language teaching deficit. However there were gaps in methods of teaching and in precise cooperation between local authorities and central government when it comes to enthusing and improving language teaching across Scotland. The recognition is there but the habit towards Euro centrism is limiting and disappointing. Admittedly the progress of the Swedes has been slow yet steady, more importantly the intent has been consistent with regards to ambitious diversity in languages access for primary and secondary school children. We now need this urgent intent from the Scottish government.

For more analysis I recommend the research from the University of Uppsala by Hanna Sahlberg Wu.

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