„We build engagement and trust between people through the exchange of knowledge and ideas globally.’ That´s what Mr. Matt Burney, Director of the Czech branch of the British Council says. We have asked him to tell our readers more not just about this topic.
Mr Burney, we will certainly agree on the fact that the British Council has become a delegate of language, culture, science and art. Let´s speak first about your organisation. There are many different activities and projects of the above mentioned spheres within British Council. However, British Council is not just an exporter of British culture, is it? Let´s talk more about philosophy and vision of the British Council please.
We’re not really an exporter of British culture; we’re a cultural relations organisation. The two are very different. Exporting culture is a one-sided activity; it’s like waving a flag and saying, “Look at us! Aren’t we great! “That’s the job of a PR company, which we’re not. We’re a cultural relations organisation and as such our primary purpose is to build international trust and understanding and to generate opportunities for individuals to fulfil their potential. Ultimately it‘s about co-operating with people with a view to establishing a more stable world. We don’t want to force-feed anyone our culture; instead, our aim is to promote co-existence, co-operation, mutual respect and understanding between people through English language and the various programmes we work in education, the arts and creativity, sport, science and governance. Cultural exporting tends to be short term whereas cultural relations works over the long term protects diversity and individual identity and brings the people of the world closer together.
I dare to say that English language has become a new Esperanto, mainly within the sphere of global science, education as well as business. Do you agree? Why do you think it is like that? How is this fact influenced by the British Council?
I don’t think I’ve heard English being linked to Esperanto before!
I would certainly agree with you that English has traditionally been used as the lingua franca in all of the areas that you mention above. I would say, however, that given changing demographic trends in the world, English, as a medium of international communication, rests on its laurels at its peril. Even as the number of English speakers expands, there are signs that the global predominance of the language may fade within the foreseeable future. If left to themselves, such trends will diminish the relative strength of the English language in international education markets as the demand for educational resources in languages, such as Spanish, Arabic or Mandarin grows and international business process outsourcing in other languages spreads. We’re keen to provide opportunities for education and English language learning across the world and we feel that we have an important role to play in satisfying a continuing demand for English learning around the world. That is why we continue to operate high quality English language teaching centres and use the language to promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas with millions of people globally.
Can you mention several examples of highly successful projects of the British Council in the Czech Republic?
Yes. We are working on a number of international projects dealing with such issues as intercultural dialogue, city development, climate change and education. The projects involve people who want to change the world for the better, initiate positive trends and shape their reality. They engage people who are current or potential opinion leaders. Most importantly, they respond to the feedback we have received from thousands of young people from the Czech Republic and beyond.
An interesting project we are currently delivering is called Challenge Europe. Its purpose is to bring together, and support, young people who want to make a real difference to the climate debate both in their own country and internationally. They have an opportunity to learn from European experts and voice their proposals of what should be done in such areas as transport, consumer behaviour, economics and taxation and energy use. The programme is run with key organisations and public figures who understand the need for immediate action to counter global warming. Young participants play the roles of climate advocates in their communities. This means that they identify problems, share them with their counterparts in the UK and beyond and ultimately arrive at concrete solutions to mitigate climate emissions. These proposals will hopefully be adopted by their communities to mitigate carbon emissions.
Another interesting programme we are currently delivering is called English Outreach which makes use of our extensive experience and networks to bring up-to-date and innovative English teaching materials and methods to teachers, students and people using English in their professional careers. We provide access to on-line business English courses for students from schools and the customers of 46 partner libraries in Central Europe. We offer teachers specialised courses in modern teaching techniques, and we develop partnerships with internet portals, TV, radio and newspapers to provide quality language learning support materials.
We do a lot more, of course. If you’re interested, please go to www.britishcouncil.cz to see other projects you could get involved in.
British society is proud of its history and traditions. At the same time, it is certainly considered multicultural within modern Europe because people from all over the world work and live in Britain. Some problems and conflicts happen now and then. However, modern society must solve these problems as multicultural co-existence belongs to reality of these days. How do you see, as a foreigner, us, the Czechs? Where do you think we have areas of improvement? Do you think we are able to tolerate existence of foreigners and their cultures and co-exist with them?
I never generalise about a particular national group. I think it is counterproductive to do so. I really enjoy living in the Czech Republic so the people must definitely have something to do with that. I have been lucky enough, through my job, to have travelled the world and lived in a number of different countries. In each of these countries I’ve seen both good and bad and been both delighted and dismayed by individuals‘ behaviour regardless of nationality. It’s difficult to generalise: within the context of a very broad European culture I can be touched by Czechs‘ friendliness – which I encounter on a regular basis, but, at the same time, I can be disappointed when I encounter an individual who doesn’t seem to appreciate the beauty of human interaction. I can be amazed at your liberal open mindedness but can be frustrated by another individual’s bigotry. I think it is for individuals to ask themselves where they might have areas for improvement and for them to take responsibility for working on those shortcomings. After all, we live in a democratic, free and competitive society which gives us a solid foundation on which to improve should we recognise the need to do so.
According to your opinion, where are the biggest gaps of the Czechs within active utilization of English language?
I am constantly amazed at what seems to be the increasing proficiency in people‘s use of English.
Whilst I’m not a teacher myself, the teachers I work with who teach English to Czechs on a daily basis tell me that grammar seems to be the most problematic area for learners. In particular, a large proportion of students struggle with articles, tenses and word order. Given the nature of the language, this isn’t a problem peculiar to Czech learners of English, of course. My colleagues also tell me that there is a tendency for many learners to use literal translations of Czech when they use English. In these cases, the meaning is picked up by Czech speakers but can lead to confusion when the learner is speaking to someone who possesses no knowledge of the Czech language.
Thank you for your answers and we wish you further successful projects not just in our country.