Berkhamsted Group | 24.11.2016

Modern Languages Conference – ‘Everyone is a linguist, and anyone can learn a new language’

Modern Languages Conference – ‘Everyone is a linguist, and anyone can learn a new language’


Of the 350 students who filled Centenary Theatre for the Modern Languages Conference, not many would have started the day thinking Swahili could be the language that would secure them a future job at the Government’s secret service, or that German speakers might be key to securing the economic future of the country post-Brexit. 

The array of linguists who took to the stage at Berkhamsted School inspired a room full of students who are considering how their modern language studies can help them in their future career path. The inspirational line-up included:


Dr Starr-Egger – Head of MFL at Imperial College

Graham Appleyard – Flintlock Ltd

Greg Hands MP – Minister for International Trade

‘Anonymous’ – GCHQ

Emily Heslop – Leeds University Undergraduate

Nicola Heslop – Teacher, Berkhamsted School  

Graham Appleyard shared his gripping journey to become an international marketing director having begun his career labouring in vineyards in the South of France.

During his time working and living among French-speaking people, Graham never resorted to speaking his native language. Within months he found he was thinking and dreaming in French and could officially recognise himself as fluent.

This experience, together with immersing himself within the local culture and lifestyle helped him on his way to securing a job in the highly competitive field of commercial marketing.  Of an estimated 100 candidates who applied for the job, Graham testifies he was appointed because of three simple words on his CV ‘Languages: English and French’. 

Another fascinating presentation from an Intelligence Analyst (whose name is withheld for security purposes) at GCHQ provided an insight to working at the Government agency responsible for protecting the security of the country along with MI5 and MI6.

The role involves scanning, translating, transcription, analysing and presenting data that could present a major threat to national security including terrorism, serious crime and weapons of mass destruction. Students learned that niche languages such as Swahili, Sylheti and Pashto are in demand as are the skills to learn and adapt to ever-evolving jargon, slangs, accents and dialects.

Conference feedback from Year 13: 

“I have more confidence now after hearing the experiences of Mr Appleyard: it is possible to become fluent if you persevere. I like the sound of being paid to make wine.”

“Having applied to study Russian at University, the idea of using my language skills in a challenging and exciting job such as being a language analyst at GCHQ is very inviting. Having heard Jeanette speak about it, I am keen to take it further.”

Students were also fortunate to listen to Greg Hands MP, Minister for International Trade, who became fluent in German while living in West Berlin after leaving school. Greg has a passion for languages, he emphasized the value of learning a language and its potential for boosting trade. Students were left with the MP’s notion that graduates boasting an additional language earn a higher salary on average, while learning a language is more than a gateway to a job, it’s an unrivalled insight to foreign culture and opinion.

Chinese was the subject covered by the final two speakers. An excellent presentation by Emily, a first year university student, explained the value of learning Chinese together with her Business degree.  Then a remarkable session delivered by Berkhamsted School’s very own Nicola Heslop successfully taught the pupils Chinese numbers from 1-99 and all the months of the year in just ten minutes!

Berkhamsted School’s Head of German, Lucy Briand said “The aim of the conference was to raise the profile of Modern Languages in our school and in our community in order to promote the uptake of MFL at GCSE and A-level, and to encourage pupils to go on to study languages, including ‘less traditional’ languages at university. We wanted the pupils to broaden their view of where languages can take them, and to inspire them with a global perspective.”

Thank you to all of the guests speakers, and to Wren Academy and Ashlyns School for joining us for the conference. 

Conference feedback from Year 9: 

“It enabled us to see where languages might lead” Will Crane

“Convincing and informative” Josh Kaynama

“I liked how they didn’t just mention the importance of languages but also culture” Josh Michaels

“It showed me how French can actually be used in life beyond the class room” Aaron McNeille

“One of the things that stuck with me was that it’s never too late to start a language” Ed Harris . 

Having a close connection with the town, may I congratulate @berkhamstedsch on their initiative, and thank @GregHands @berkhamstednews

— Mark Higton (@Alfromeo) November 24, 2016

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