The unreconstructed monolinguist
t may seem odd that, working in a building which broadcast (until recently) in over 40 languages, I speak only English. I never seemed to have much aptitude for languages - I did Latin for two years at school, and French for five, and I still don't really know whether my lack of success in French is down to innate inability or just bad teaching (I certainly don't think we were taught well).
In the end I managed to scrape 'O' Level French after several months of extra private tuition (there was a theory that I was going to university, and in 1961 you had to have French 'O' Level to study anything at any university), but 'scrape' is the word and I was never remotely competent in it. (And after all that I didn't go to university anyway.)
I wish I could speak at least French and German: but in respect of working for the BBC World Service it's irrelevant anyway, because no-one could learn all the languages, and producers have to be able to speak English (which most of them do with much greater facility than most English people speak foreign languages).
I say 'no-one could learn all the languages'. but in fact we had a senior producer called George Campbell whose hobby was learning languages - I don't know how many he had achieved, but he reckoned he could learn a new language in two weeks (!), and had run out of major languages and progressed to obscure dialects.
I once commented to a member of the Russian Service on my admiration for George's linguistic achievements. The Russian commented, unkindly, 'the more languages you speak, the less you have to say in any of them'.
Posted: Fri - July 27, 2007 at 08:52 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM