Monthly Archives: August 2010

Taking a break

So, having sat at this desk for much of the glorious summer, I am heading off for two weeks holiday, just as it turns to autumn…never mind…

See you back here in two weeks for more fun and games!

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal

Summer of euro-scares

What do eggs, flags, cornish pasties and nurses have in common? They are all stories we have been dealing with this summer that have to a greater or lesser extent been misrepresented in some quarters of the British press. At the same time we are clearing up, getting ready for the move to our new office in October. So there was many a wry smile in the office when this article arose from the archive:

Evening Standard on summer Euroscares (Needs to be rotated)

14 years on, nothing much has changed.

[Update 11.40]

Sorry, meant to say, if you’re interested in looking more at this issue, we have a site where we put up our side of these stories and post letters we send to the papers, and that also has an archive of previous #Euromyths (in the right-hand column of the site).


Filed under Euromyths

Est-ce qu’il faut parler les langues?

There have been a lot of pieces in the news the last few days, prompted by the GSCE results and the fact that, apart from Spanish, numbers taking GCSEs in modern languages have dropped. The Independent leader criticises the decision to scrap mandatory languages at secondary level, saying:

Making languages optional at 14 has had several consequences, each as predictable as it is regrettable. The first was to signal that an acquaintance with even one foreign language was a luxury rather than a necessity. The second was to reinforce the impression that languages were difficult, and so to be avoided, by pupils and schools concerned about scores and league tables. And the third was to encourage schools to scale down language teaching and divert resources elsewhere.

The Guardian editorial says

A suspicion that the web is more Anglosphere-wide than worldwide fuels a feeling that others are under more pressure to learn our language than we are to master theirs. Within a learn-to-earn educational philosophy, it is then a short step to deciding that our priorities should lie elsewhere. This is a dangerous line of argument, even in its own terms. If the weave of the web is working in favour of English, there is an awfully long way to go. Three in four of the world’s people speak no English, which is a lot of people to give up hope of trading with. More profoundly, to forgo familiarity with foreign languages is to forgo the chance to see the world from a foreign point of view.

which reminds me of the argument I always used at school when people asked why I was doing languages – “I can chat up 3 times as many boys as you can”. Even though the likelihood of the 15-year-old me chatting up any boy no matter what language he spoke was a near-zero, the argument seemed to hit home with my fellow 15-year-olds.

A longer piece in the Guardian goes into more detail and raises the point that even if lots of people speak English when we want to buy from them, us speaking their languages when we want to sell to them is more effective. As the article says (and the errors in the German are theirs not mine!):

It is true, says Kelly, that many Germans speak English – “but they are proud of their own language and are pleased if potential partners can make a gesture towards it. And it’s easier to buy things in English than to sell them.” He quotes Willy Brandt: “If I’m selling I’m happy to speak to you in English. But if I’m buying dann müssen sie deutsche sprechen.” The impact on British exports is obvious.

What none of these articles pick up on is that language is a serious industry in its own right for the EU in general and for the UK. A recent report commissioned by the Commission estimated the size of the language industry at €8.4b in 2008, set to grow to €16.5b in 2015. For the UK the report estimated that

the total turnover of the translation and interpretation market … is therefore estimated between €290m and €434m

There is money to be made here and that money will not be going to UK citizens if we neglect our language learning. A study by Cardiff Business School suggests that the UK economy is losing business because of our poor language skills – estimated in 2007 by the same professor to be €9b.

That’s all before we get into issues of EU staffing, mentioned in the Guardian article. The FCO are focusing on this, in the wake of Hague’s speech about it (which I can’t find a link to at the moment). The UK is certainly under-represented in the EU institutions. Now, of course, the Commission is charged to have the European interest at its core, and so there is no question of ploughing a national furrow when you are there. But undoubtedly where you come from informs your approach. When I joined, I assumed there would be this wonderful melding of cultures into a European administrative culture. Wrong – the European Commission is lots of people with very different ways of doing things getting along together and making it work. So having UK people in the mix is important. But if you don’t speak languages, you won’t get in. Even if the entry requirements as they currently stand discriminate slightly against native English, French and German speakers*, the sad fact is that the biggest barrier to entry for most Brits is the language requirement. The other problem is that if anyone learns languages in the UK, they tend to be linguists, whereas what the Commission also needs are agronomists and vets and engineers and computer technicians who speak languages. So I applaud the UK government for trying to encourage more applications, and I have already told them that I and this office will do what we can to help, but at the same time, this language issue needs to be tackled in the broader sense if they are to succeed.

* the entry exams have to be sat in EN, FR or DE, and not in your first language. So if you are an English speaker with fluent Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, you will not be able to take the exam (or at least not have any decent chance of passing). This is true for French and German speakers too, but as most of them will probably have English as at least one of their languages, it is less obviously a problem.


Filed under Languages

Off-topic: Beagledors

One of the most common search terms that brings people to this site is, surprisingly, “beagledors”, because of this post in 2008. And maybe this one. Oh and possibly this one. Anyway, obviously there are lots of people interested in Beagledors, so I thought I’d give them something today: the most recent pic I have of Bailey, the Beagledor who started it all off.

Photo by Jon Boyle. All rights reserved.

PS In case you think I am exaggerating, I just looked at the list of top search terms for this blog and “beagledor” is top. By quite a long chalk. And there are 4 beagledor-related terms in the Top 20.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal

Links 24 August

It’s been a while, so there are quite a few articles that I’ve picked up on recently. Some might be signposted elsewhere, but better twice than not at all, eh?

One of my secret passions is Rugby League – I’m off to the Challenge Cup Final on Saturday – so I was glad to see it get some coverage in the Guardian away from the sport pages.

The commercial modernisation of rugby league has crushed its ambitions. But as yesterday showed, it can’t crush the pride.

The Wall Street Journal take a different look at national contributions to the EU budget – on a per capita rather than total basis. Interestingly, that pushes the UK way down the list of contributors.

The picture changes quite a bit. Small, rich countries (the Benelux nations, the Nordics, Ireland) rise up; the biggies (particularly the U.K.) fall down.

This item on the Failblog made me laugh so much. Unfortunately I was on the tube and so everyone thought I was a crazy lady.

Among all the dire news about the written press, Roy has some good news for us:

One success story hidden away among last week’s release of the ABC consumer magazines sales figures was the performance of First News, the weekly paper for children.

In the first six months of the year, it registered a sale of 48,314. That was a rise of 22.5% on the same same period in 2009 (when the sale was 39,450).

Leave a comment

Filed under Links

Digital manners

I found the following tweet on my timeline this morning:

@euonymblog can you twitt a bit less on ordinary things ? – we’re following you bc of the eu-part, txs

I have to admit, I was (and remain) quite annoyed about it, and I’ve been trying to work out why. I think it comes down to a point I make quite often when talking about social media and made when writing about this for the Waltzing Matilda blog:

One should think of social media as a reception rather than a meeting. It’s worth going to, you make some good contacts, you often get a lot done, but sometimes you talk about tennis or where you are going for your holidays.

And so for me, someone saying what I saw this morning was like talking to a group of people at a reception and one of them saying “Actually, I’m not interested in what you’re saying, could you please say something more related to my particular interests”. In the reception scenario, if you weren’t interested, wouldn’t you just drift away and talk to someone else?

I have a lot of EU-related followers, and that of course is a major element. But I also interact with UK political commentators, a lot of science writers, people from local government, knitting bloggers and many other random, weird and totally wonderful people. This is my personal tweeting account, and my personal blog and I am someone who has interests wider than my work. If you’re only interested in my work, you can go elsewhere (including our office’s official Twitter account @eulondonrep).

So I was annoyed, and I feel I have a right to be so. Just because we’re in a digital medium, we don’t have to forget our manners.

1 Comment

Filed under Digital/social media

News the new way

I got given an iPad for my birthday and it is every bit as wonderful as I thought it would be. I use it in ways I never expected – it is fabulous for recipes, which I would never have thought of:  you can prop it up like a cookbook. One of my favourite apps is Flipbook, which puts your Twitter or Facebook feed as a magazine. Very stylish. The idea seems to be catching on, as I just set up a account and have a “newspaper” of my eurostuff feed which you can read here. I remember early on in my Twitter incarnation someone defending it as “a newspaper written by people whose opinion I value”. So I guess actually MAKING it into a newspaper was just the next logical step…

Thanks to Jimmy Leach at the FCO for showing me this. You can see theirs here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital/social media

Bloggez-vous? have picked up and will support the idea of a multilingual day of blogging on 26 September, to mark the European Day of Languages. I met with someone today who got very excited about the event and will try to get someone pretty senior on board for it, which would be great. My language colleagues will be promoting it in their general EDL work, and I will use our Facebook and Twitter networks to try to get more people on board. Do let me know if you are hoping to take part by leaving a comment below or contacting me via the contact page, and I’ll try to get a list up. First milestone – 100 people signing up to it by end August! And can anyone think of a good hashtag? #langblog? #edl2010?


Filed under Digital/social media, EC in UK, Languages

Links 9 August

I would love to do a proper post, but it’s been quite busy the last few days, probably due to the arrival of the new boss. so here are some links in the meantime.

Sometime our justice system is not all it could be, or that we would like it to be, but Shirin Ebadi’s article on stoning in Iran in the Guardian puts that in context.

On the face of things, stoning is not a gendered punishment, for the law stipulates that adulterous men face the same brutal end. But because Iranian law permits polygamy, it effectively offers men an escape route: they are able to claim that their adulterous relationship was in fact a temporary marriage (Iranian law recognises “marriages” of even a few hours duration between men and single women). Men typically exploit this escape clause, and are rarely sentenced to stoning. But married woman accused of adultery have access to no such reprieve.

This article in the Boston Globe about facts backfiring is so interesting for our work here.

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

And there are some pretty powerful lessons in SciencePunk’s  Skeptical about Skeptics post, primarily about talking just to your community:

The internet is a wonderful thing, and has allowed groups of people to find one another and work collectively over huge distances, and is very much at the heart of the skeptic movement. But it has also lent an illusion that the online world is an accurate reproduction of the world at large, when it is something of a hall of mirrors. Even this blog is victim to that recursive effect. Writing in a particular style, on a particular subject, from a particular point of view, all this shapes my audience, in effect choosing like-minded individuals who are fairly likely to agree with me on a lot of points. This can create something of a confirmation bias – because unless I come into contact with contradictory views, from someone I respect, I’m unlikely to really be challenged on many of my views. And similarly, lazy or false views will thrive longer than they would in the harsh environment of the outside world.

1 Comment

Filed under Links

Links 3 August 2010

Interesting piece by JohnJoe McFadden on the GM milk issue. I was particularly interested to read

As far as is known, no one has ever died or even got sick from eating GM food. Why are people so scared of GM ingredients, while cheerfully accepting far greater hazards?

This issue of risk perception is one I find really interesting. For example, all the people who started cycling after the 7/7  bombs. More than 3000 cyclists are killed or seriously injured every year on London’s roads. So the odds of getting killed are much higher going to work on a bike than on the Tube. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have made that decision, just that the psychology of decisions goes way beyond the rational choice I learnt about in my Public Policy lectures at LSE.

I loved this – just as I love courgettes…

In recent years courgettes have extended their repertoire to include round varieties and brilliant yellow “banana” courgettes. Such a clever vegetable – what’s not to love?

The Grahnlaw blog is examining the best of the Euroblogs this summer. He doesn’t follow me, so I’m not in contention (cough cough), but it is nonetheless 🙂 a discussion worth following.

EU geeks might want to check out the Business for New Europe paper on the case for a UK Sovereignty Bill, which concludes that

We consider that the maintenance of the status quo, with enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of EU matters, is the most constructive way forward.

We have lived through 25 years of EU treaty change and then all the uncertainty over the issue of British membership of the euro. We now have the prospect of a treaty-free decade, without all the parliamentary upheavals that parliamentary ratification entails. Our members would find it perverse and damaging for a Conservative / Liberal Democrat government, declared business-friendly to be adding uncertainty by opening up this particular can of worms.

And finally (as they say), this amazing set of photos which superimpose photos from World War Two on the same buildings and settings today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Links