A recent article in The Guardian highlighted decreased funding for foreign language training for British diplomats. Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador, argues that language skills are an essential aspect of diplomacy and that “knowing the language is the key that unlocks the door” to building trust and relationships in another country.
Miles describes an incident during his time as an ambassador when his Greek language skills and friendship with the foreign minister helped to stop violent conflict from breaking out. Ambassadors from other countries who lacked the language skills had a difficult time influencing the situation.
It is interesting to note the connection between language skills and authentic relationships in Miles’ story. Yes, language can be a tool for diplomacy, but peace happens when language learning occurs in the context of concrete relationships, not abstract knowledge. Language learning can nurture connections between people, build bridges across points of division, and strengthen our collective security as we navigate political and social realities between nations and regions.