Language learning in schools is, as we know, on the wane.  “What’s the point in learning a foreign language? Everyone speaks English,” is the refrain we hear rather too often.  Someone even said to me recently, “it’s hardly a matter of life or death if I don’t speak another language, is it…?”

The recent shut-down of Leicester and a number of other English towns and cities has been well-publicised in the national media. Bad news is good news for journalists, helping to create online column inches at a time when the ‘traditional’ media is on its knees. However, often there are good news stories hidden amongst the bad and one good news story from Leicester that I’ve not seen reported in the national ‘press’ (perhaps because it is a good news story!), is the role of the translator in situations like these.

In Leicester, over 11% of the population speak Gujarati, with many others speaking Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali (and other languages).  The president of the Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community group, Vinod Ghadiali, is recording bulletins in Gujarati for BBC Radio Leicester and a local charity, the Al-Khair Foundation have put together leaflets and audio messages in more than 10 languages including Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and more.

With other towns in northern England being put into more stringent lockdown as a result of spikes in the infection rate, and these towns having, like Leicester, a substantial percentage of inhabitants from Asia and the Indian subcontinent, some of whom do not have English as their first language, it’s obvious that, for the lockdown measures to work properly, communication has to be in more than one language. And given that it is clear that this disease affects BAME people more than most, in this instance language really could be a matter of life or death.

Fiona Woodford, Global Connects