Glasgow’s times present: international ambitions, but we won’t speak your language

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

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. When I first moved to Glasgow and began job hunting, I learned very quickly that preseting recruiters with a CV which includes foreign language skills will result in them enthusiastically stating that they have many immediate vacancies for you. In call centre customer support roles beginning at £12k per annum.

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