British diplomats spend a lot of time learning foreign languages.  Before each of my last four postings (in Vienna, Moscow, Berlin and Kyiv) I had the privilege of spending between four weeks and nine months on intensive language preparations.  If you want to understand a country and its people, speaking the language helps.

Conversely, the English language is a major means of international communication, including in business and in the tourism and hospitality industries.  That makes effective English language learning an important way to help draw Ukraine into the global community, including preparations for this year’s Euro 2012 championships.

That’s why it’s good news that the Ukrainian Ministry of Education has set itself the goal of teaching English in schools at primary level from September 2012. This is a great goal, but an ambitious one, and will require a big increase in teacher capacity.  To help achieve it, the Ministry has invited the British Council to produce a new in–service development course for the country’s 37,000 English language teachers. The Council last did this in 1998-2002.  Since then there have been advances in teaching practice and digital technology which offer more scope for direct training.

The British Council will also be doing research this year on the English needs of specific sectors in Ukraine including the IT, Tourism and Hospitality, Energy and Metallurgy and Digital Journalism sectors; and will be offering tailored language training for civil servants working with European Union institutions.

The British Council has a global ambition to provide learning and teaching materials to all teachers and learners of English worldwide.  In Ukraine, tie-ups with Samsung and the tablet-makers, PocketBook, will help expand the Council’s mobile and digital reach from 150,000 last year to an estimated 400,000 people this year.  If you have children, you may want to check out the Council’s free on-line English-language learning site for young children.  The British Council also have on-line resources for adults – including those apps for mobile phones.

I never met anyone who could learn a language without a lot of hard work.  But with these resources anyone can start learning English today.  Good luck.

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