Why I’m calling for 1000 words for all

September 14th, 2013 by

I’ve been working with Speak to the Future to develop their new 1000 words campaign. The message is that everyone can and should acquire at least 1000 words in another language. The idea is that the concept of 1000 words provides a way of unifying messages and getting through to a wider public. Where ‘learning to speak another language’ sounds daunting, 1000 words is something everyone can aspire to. Whilst ‘A2 on the Common European Framework’ means something specific to the specialists, it’s hardly a hook for a marketing campaign. But the idea of 1000 words is also flexible – it can be interpreted in different ways to suit different circumstances, and it lends itself to creativity.

The key message is that languages are for everyone. There is a huge need to democratise language learning, to change attitudes and practices which all too often see it as something for the privileged and academic, but not so relevant for the average person. Yet when I interviewed businesses for the British Academy’s State of the Nation report, it was clear that language skills were required and valued at all levels in the workforce. In fact, in the case of B&Q, which works closely with their French sister company Castorama to pool buying power, Services and Training Manager Mark Giles told me that ‘while senior managers [in Castrorama] might speak good English, deeper in the organisation this is not the case’. They are therefore training staff in French to bridge the communication gap.

We need to draw in all the support we can get – from headteachers, businesses, cultural organisations and influential individuals – to put awareness of the value of languages on the same level that STEM subjects enjoy. A number of actions are now coming together to make this start to seem like a real possibility. It’s fantastic that the Guardian has now teamed up with the British Academy to promote the case for language learning. And I’m very encouraged that organisations such as the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce are engaging with the new Born Global research project to provide evidence for rethinking policies on language learning in the light of how languages are actually used in the workplace. The British Council too is putting its weight behind language learning in the UK with a range of activities coming up during its forthcoming International Education Week.

So, as Speak to the Future Campaign Director Bernardette Holmes memorably said at the launch of the Born Global project, it is not only a question of Obama’s ‘Yes, we can’ . We must go further and be clear also that ‘we must’ and ‘we will’.

So please join the 1000 words campaign – there is a sign up form on the Speak to the Future website at


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One response to “Why I’m calling for 1000 words for all”

  1. Adrienne Horrigan says:

    A great article Teresa – sorry to be slow getting back to you

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