I attended Glasgow’s 15th State of the City Economy Conference today. There was a lot of talk about the importance of global marketing, exports, tourism, international financial services: international business, in short. There was talk too about education, training and skills, from school to college to university to apprenticeships.
But not one word about the importance of promoting language skills to support all this internationalisation the city aspires to.
Actually, there was a word — one single word. And what a word: “polyglot”. The Leader of Glasgow City Council mentioned en passant that the “polyglot” Liz Cameron, former Provost of Glasgow, is in Nantes right now promoting the city. Why does nobody put two and two together and realise that it’s precisely because Liz speaks French, Italian (and some German) that she’s able to do that promotional work so well? Not just by speaking people’s language, but by “speaking their language”. By understanding, and being interested in, their cultures. By understanding “where they’re coming from”.
I’ve just been looking at Glasgow’s tourism website, by the way. It’s in English only. Glasgow isn’t alone in this. Anne de Freyman points out that York — which she describes as a “supreme & fabulous tourism city” — only provides Google Translate. As Anne — a French-born York resident — notes, it’s hard to say which is worse: no translate, or Google Translate?
Glasgow’s International Financial Services District’s website (also in English only!) used to mention the city’s highly respected university language departments, and their graduates, as a factor in attracting international business. But now, only the business/financial faculties seem to merit a mention.
And yes, money’s tight and translation doesn’t come free. But with carefully selected translation languages — focusing on existing and target markets — the expenditure would soon repay itself. So an investment, not a cost.
If Glasgow really wants to be a worthy player on the international stage it should get its language act together.
By Marian Dougan