Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday 15 May 2004

Arabic speakers - there aren't enough for MI5 requirements

There's a very interesting article in today's Economist (subscription required) high-lighting the shortage of Arabic students, potentially translatable (so to speak) into future spooks, spies and what have you. The report regrets, as do many, the closure of the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (MECAS) in Lebanon in 1978, largely because of the parlous security situation there at the time. Many of my former colleagues (in a bank, I hasten to add) were enrolled there and most turned into pretty fluent Arabic speakers. By the time I was studying Arabic, the FCO (and certain other private institutions like the one I worked for) used The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and I spent a year there doing a pretty intensive course supplemented by a period of insertion in Jordan. All this came in very useful in later years, although unfortunately in recent years I haven't kept up the daily exposure to the language that is necessary to maintain proficiency. People able to interact with Arabic speakers (and indeed with speakers of many other languages) are badly needed for commercial and political purposes - it is unfortunately the case that the inestimable value of having English as probably the major language used today internationally is a handicap for native English speakers who often wonder what is the point of learning another language when most people it is useful or necessary to converse with speak some English already, even if at a rudimentary level.

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