Among my English-language students I have some who are studying with Diplotaxis to enter the Spanish diplomatic service. It is clear that such people have a very real need to know What Diplomats Do, and that the only way to achieve this is to rely on the experience of professionals for information and advice. Sir Brian Barder’s book draws on his own time in the British diplomatic service, in which he served as ambassador in several important countries, to provide a wealth of practical information that is hard to find elsewhere.
The book follows the career of a fictional British diplomat called Adam and his wife, inevitably called Eve. The British background is only natural but the work and life of diplomats has much in common no matter the country that they represent: dealing with foreign governments, dealing with your own foreign ministry, humanitarian work, consular activities, promoting trade, working in international organisations, it is all here in a readable presentation – and not only professional life but also vivid and informative descriptions of the personal and family problems and pleasures of living and working in an unusual situation far from home.
Not only do we follow Adam’s own career from entry to the highest levels of diplomacy. There are personal illustrations from Brian Barder’s own time spent in many parts of the world, including his personal decision to authorise the airlift that relieved the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Spanish readers will be especially interested in his account of his participation in the UN debate over Gibraltar in the 1960s.
By combining a realistic description of Adam’s career with the factual events of his own, Brian Barder presents the ups and downs, the pleasure and the pain, of a diplomatic career. I recommend it strongly to my students and to anyone else who wants to know what diplomats actually do.
The author Sir Brian Barder, KCMG, had a varied career in the British Diplomatic Service, serving in Moscow, Canberra and New York, as ambassador to Ethiopia, the Republic of Bénin, and Poland, and as high commissioner to Nigeria and Australia.
Availability The book is available in paper and Kindle versions from all Amazon sites including amazon.co.uk, amazon.es and amazon.com. For more information about the book and other options for buying it, click here.
Publishing What Diplomats Do is written by Sir Brian Barder KCMG and published by Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN-13: 978-1442226357
Note This is an unpaid review of a book that I bought at my own expense. I have no connection, personal, commercial or financial, with the publisher of What Diplomats Do or with any bookseller. Peter Harvey.
This blog is about language, not about politics. Unfortunately however, the two sometimes come into contact and when they do so the result is never happy as it inevitably involves politicians using language as a tool for advancing their own policies of vanity.
Language is a particularly controversial topic just now in Catalonia, where I live. A recent post on the LSE blog by two experienced language teachers in Barcelona* highlights how serious the problem has become. There are memories of the banning of Catalan for public purposes, including education, and these are not far from the stories that I heard in my childhood about the banning of Welsh. So it is especially unfortunate and saddening that we now read this:
Could anyone imagine a situation whereby, in Wales or Scotland, pre-school pupils did not receive even one hour of education in English, only two at primary level and three at secondary? Well, that is exactly what is happening in Catalonia – students are only taught in Catalan [meaning that Catalan is the only language in which they are taught PH] in their first years of schooling (sometimes they might have an extra hour or so of English, but never Spanish), while for the remaining compulsory education period they are taught in Catalan, except for two or three hours a week in Spanish and English.
As a result of this linguistic immersion:
… the Generalitat (Catalonia’s autonomous government) has made a point of airbrushing the concept of “mother tongue” out of the sphere of education … The very concept of teaching in the mother tongue was also erased, to the point that it no longer appears on any official form or survey. Thus it is rather surprising that those same people who, some years ago (and quite justifiably) championed the importance of children receiving an education in their mother tongue [i.e. Catalan PH] have not only forgotten about their old arguments, they have even caused the concept itself to disappear.
I thoroughly recommend this article to anyone who is interested in seeing how language can be used as a tool for political manipulation of society, and especially of children.
Comments are open for this post (in fact, Typepad does not allow them to be closed for individual posts). Comments on language teaching and social policy will be welcomed but polemical posts about Catalan separatism will certainly be deleted.
*Dr Sonia Sierra is associate professor in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB (Spain).
Mercè Vilarrubias is a teacher and a free-lance journalist. She’s a specialist in bilingual education and in language policies in European countries
As an EFL teacher I am aware that I am teaching a language that is dominant in the world. However, I regard myself primarily as a language teacher, knowing that English is an essential tool for those who wish to advance in the world but should not exclude a knowledge of other languages. Multilingualism is no hardship – indeed monolinguals are in a minority – but the teaching and use of other languages are sometimes seen as detracting from the strength of the native culture. It is this factor that so often links language with nationalism.
In the Lingua Franca blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education Geoff Pullum writes of the power of English in the world of higher education, describing the phenomenon of EMI (English as the medium of instruction)
While considering the two sides to the question, he concludes:
It saddens us linguists that so many grammatically fascinating and diverse languages in so many language families should be dying out, yet who are we to tell an African father, proud of raising his children to speak a multinational lingua franca like Swahili or English, rather than the local dialect of his traditional village, that he is wrong?
We cannot insist that children should be raised speaking some dying minority language (be it Walbiri or Irish or Inuktitut or Mohawk) unless we have jobs to offer them that they can do using those languages.
I can understand his feelings. I see the other side of the coin in Zambia, a country where I taught English in a primary school in the early 1980s. The Lusaka Times of 16 January 2013 quotes Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba’s concern about the status of English.
“We have to address this imbalance. As the PF [Patriotic Front], we are determined to see to it that we eliminate the use of English as a language of instructions in our schools and replace it with our own Zambian languages,” Mr. Kabimba said.
Mr. Kabimba who is also PF Secretary General stated that the colonial masters have continued using foreign languages such as English to oppress the Africans.
He was speaking Tuesday evening during a live television programme on ZNBC TV discussing the use of Zambian languages in schools.
“What we have is a colonial hangover. If you remember in 1884 during the Berlin Conference to partition Africa, European countries decided to divide Africa especially Sub Saharan Africa. Some African countries were turned into English speaking nations, others became French speaking while countries like Mozambique were turned into Portuguese speaking countries. This was done in order to manage us as Africans.”
He added, “They had to impose this English language on our forefathers but what is shocking is that Zambian intellectuals even those at University have not raised this question that the English language has been used as a tool of captivity.”
Mr. Kabimba said the PF government finds it unacceptable that some private schools in Zambia today do not teach local languages.
Zambia became independent in 1964. When Kabimba spoke those words the country had had almost fifty years to overcome the imposition of the English language. And I know that that imposition was only superficial; many educated Zambians spoke mediocre English less than 20 years after independence. I was told by a Zambian friend who had worked for the colonial administration that the teacher training college was the first in situation to be Zambianised on independence. From the state of English teaching in government schools at them time I could believe it.
But Kabimba’s comments smack more of nationalist politics than of educational policy. And the great irony is glaringly obvious. He speaks in English and we can read his words reported in an English-language medium. In fact, his biography shows that he was born in 1958 and graduated in law from the University of Zambia in 1981. It seems certain that a large part of his own education will have taken place in English.
One Tom Lungu also received his education in English. I know because I taught him, though he already had native-speaker ability. Here he is, describing his own business activities. How is Africa to progress without this kind of language ability? And how is it to be achieved if not through education en English?
As the name suggests, Lavengro Books Pearls are concentrated units of concise information. At about 80 – 100 words, each Pearl contains a point about the English language in a short form that is easy to assimilate and remember. The Pearls contrast with and complement the detailed descriptions contained in A Guide to English Language Usage. A collection of Pearls can be seen on the Lavengro Books website.
I am too preoccupied with publishing affairs right now to give this article by Johnson in the Economist the detailed attention that it richly deserves here, but it describes excellently what is wrong with English teaching nowadays. Simply, the teachers know too little, if they know anything at all, about how the language works.
Many school-leavers in English-speaking countries cannot even say what a clause is … But the problem goes deeper, to teacher training. Many English teachers struggle as much as students with phrases and clauses. They can correct common mistakes (“don’t confuse ‘effect’ and ‘affect’”) and teach punctuation (“it’s” versus “its”). But many could not confidently and correctly break the words of a complex sentence down by function. This seems to be due to a divorce long ago between the study of language itself and what college departments teach future teachers in the “English” departments.
As a result of the divorce of language and literature, linguistics has developed an entire hoard of basic terms to describe sentences that are utterly unknown to English teachers. Take “determiner”. This is a basic class of words that includes the, a, an, three, this, that, my, his, many and many others. The reason linguists talk about determiners is that they all play the same kind of syntactical role, and are quite different from adjectives, the category they’ve traditionally been crammed into. Many other basic terms of syntax, like “complement” and “adjunct”, are virtually unknown outside the field, though they’re crucial for understanding how English grammar works.
I did a solid course in grammar for English language O-level in 1966 and was probably among the last people in Britain to do so. When I came to do my PGCE specialising in EFL in 1977, things had changed. Communicative competence was what we were seeking, and it was true that the English grammar I had learnt, with its eight parts of speech based on Latin grammar, had been superseded. True too that the grammar-translation method by which I had learnt languages (German, French, Spanish and Russian) was hopeless for enabling communication, but the baby went out with the bathwater and grammar had become a dirty word – as had many things that required formal learning in the 1970s. Situations, notions and all sorts of things were to be taught with the assumption that grammar would be absorbed incidentally.
Now I find myself unusual among English teachers, even EFL teachers, in having a sound understanding of grammar.
From the BBC about English language exams in the UK for people wanting to enter the country as overseas students:
Director Varinder Bajarh said: “Someone else will sit the exam for you. But you will have to have your photo taken there to prove you were present.” … each of the 14 candidates had a “fake sitter” who took the spoken and written tests for them. All the real candidates had to do was wait to have their photograph taken - as proof they were there.
As an oral examiner for a proper language testing system (Cambridge University ESOL), what can I say except that I am appalled that there is no proper ID check on candidates?
The Economist’s Johnson has an interesting article about bringing up children speaking two languages, but it also has a particular point of interest of its own. Johnson writes of “Children raised bilingual o or more multilingual”. I would certainly have used adverbs here (bilingually or multilingually) but the adjective complements seem to work. We understand “Children raised [to be] bilingual or multilingual”.
But could we have “Children raised happy” or “healthy”? I think not, presumably because the languages that a child speaks are entirely within the power of the parents with no element of chance, justifying the purpose implicit in the ellipted infinitive.
In a post the other day I analysed the presentation that Ana Botella, Mayor of Madrid, made to the international Olympic Committee. I said that her pronunciation, while obviously heavily rehearsed, was good. I also speculated that her model was probably American rather than British. It turns out that I was right; she was advised by an American image consultant called Terrence Burns, who has worked on four previous successful Olympic bids, and they spent 25-30 hours practising the speech. He has been interviewed by the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair.
He also says that he wrote the whole speech and that the relaxing cup of café con leche was his idea (my translation):
Because as a foreigner, for me that is an iconic image of Madrid. My job is to help the candidacies understand that the things that they think may be touristy are in fact attractive to foreigners. My role is to help each candidacy to understand what a foreign audience wants to hear. Madrid is one of the most enchanting cities in the world and the “relaxing cup of café con leche” was an easy and simple concept that expressed that. It put it across perfectly and I would do it again. It was perfect. It was my idea and if people don’t like it, fine, but it was my idea, not hers.
Well, in my comments on that post I say, among other suggestions:
The speech has been criticised for being light in content and for presenting a banal, clichéd view of Madrid and of Spain; personally I would agree with that and if I had been advising her I would have tried to persuade her to put more meat in it … As for the coffee, it is not as if café con leche is particularly Spanish, let alone from Madrid specifically. It is drunk at breakfast but during the day most people who want to relax in a bar drink espresso or a cortado (espresso with a little milk). If she wanted to say something that really is typically Spanish she could have said tapas, which do have an international reputation … The physical presentation was distracting in its gestures and in her exaggerated facial expressions.
Burns also worked on her gestures, pauses, emphasis, intonation and body language. She really should have come to me. I would have done a far better job!