Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Members' Day at the Chartered Institute of Linguists

The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) held their annual Members' Day on Saturday 3rd October. 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the Institute's Royal Charter. 

Chair of Council Keith Moffitt described the CIOL as a "broad church" representing a very rich community of linguists with a massive range of languages. Chief Executive Ann Carlisle explained how the Institute is reaching out to a wider, younger membership and introducing new professional examinations.

The event was held in Central London at BMA House, home of the British Medical Association. The large Grade II listed building meant that a series of break-out sessions could run concurrently to meet members' varied interests and backgrounds.

In the morning, there were 4 presentations:

·      Translation and Interpreting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by Richard Littlewood
·      Be professional! Act professionally! by Alina Cincan MCIL
·      Languages in Higher Education by Dr Elena Polisca
·      Getting involved with the CIOL by Marta Stelmaszak MCIL Chartered Linguist
·      Languages in the workplace by Richard Hardie, CIOL Vice President

My first session was "Getting involved with the CIOL". In keeping with its intention to reach out to younger linguists, the Institute invited the young and well-known Polish translator, Marta Stelmaszak to present the benefits of membership, Chartered Linguist status and volunteering. After her excellent presentation, a panel of long-standing members explained the value of their membership throughout their careers.

Pic of CiOL Members' Day presentation
Volunteering at the CIOL

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Richard Littlewood's began his good-humoured session on the FCO with a description of the Special Translation Section in the 1970s. A team of 30 translators was created for the UK's accession to the European Union. Richard continued the tale all the way to today's trading fund with just 10 translators. He explained both the kudos and difficulties of running an "independent business" against the cut-throat pricing of competitors and the FCO acting as both client and landlord.

FCO building in Whitehall, London

2014-2015 Review
After a delicious lunch and networking, we all gathered for a review of the CIOL's year. An 8-page, full-colour printed summary was available to all members in their pack for the day and should soon appear on the website. It was particularly good to meet the two key new members on the Institute's staff: Matthias Postel (Business Development Manager) and Jane Galbraith (Head of Membership). Both appointments demonstrate the Institute's new strategic drive.

Hong Kong and China
In her talk, Ann Carlisle emphasised the importance of Hong Kong and China to the Institute. The Hong Kong Society has just celebrated its 30th Anniversary. In November 2015, Ann Carlisle and Jane Galbraith will visit China to launch a new Chinese Association. Ann described the rich thirst for recognition and qualifications from the UK in particular.

Threlford Lecture
Professor Andy Kirkpatrick of Griffith University gave the prestigious 2015 Threlford Lecture. His topic was "English as a lingua franca: the threat to other languages". Unfortunately, it was not a happy story to tell to a room of linguists.

Endangered languages and communication
According to SOAS predictions, we could see a 90% reduction in the world's 6,500 languages. There are more than 1,000 languages within the 10 nations of ASEAN. Surprisingly, the working language of ASEAN is English. It avoids the need for a translation budget. Yet, not all delegates feel able to participate fully as a result. Sometimes a representative is chosen for his English skills rather than relevant subject knowledge.

A different form of English
English is used by more multilinguals in Asia than English native speakers. They have adapted the language to their needs. Andy Kirkpatrick stressed that native Brits and Americans need to understand how English is changing there. He talked us through the differing language and educational situations in the various ASEAN countries.

Singapore's devastating policy
Andy described the devastating effects of pushing education in English too early. English almost always replaces the language of the region. Singapore's language education policy was seen as spectacularly unsuccessful with English crowding out other languages. There are concerns that the ethnic Chinese in Singapore are now unable to communicate at a high level in their native tongue.

English only
Parents seek to help their children succeed at school by speaking English at home too. Some of the middle classes do not even learn their own native language. In Malaysia, there was a legal challenge precisely because learning in English privileged the wealthy and elite.

Devastating impact on education
English is easier to learn a later stage. There is a shortage of teachers. Primary school drop-out rates are high. Children find it particularly hard to understand Maths and Science in a language that is not their native tongue.

Timing and text books
English teaching should be delayed until children have mastered two local languages. Asian multilinguals want to talk about different qualities of rice, coffee, Islamic finance, etc. Yet, these subjects are not found in any English text books. They need their culture and daily life preoccupations incorporated into teaching materials.

Chinese education policy
National Chinese law prescribes Putonghua Mandarin and the Standard Written language. There is no teaching in Cantonese. 70 million Cantonese speakers are pushed to speak Mandarin. There are 55 ethnic minorities in China. Parents naturally want their children to succeed. English is seen as important to that success. Many send their children to be educated abroad - some to escape the competitive Chinese system.

Trilingual policy
In North East China, there is an example of a successful trilingual policy. Korean and Mongolian are successfully taught. This has been shown to be of great economic benefit.

Insightful lecture
By the end of his lecture, Andy Kirkpatrick had provided CIOL members with a thorough insight into the effects of English language in Asia.

Multilingual end to day
The full day ended with a friendly drinks reception. English was not the only language heard at BMA House. Some members seized the opportunity to practise their language skills in the multilingual environment fostered by the CIOL.

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