Winning with Languages

Last Updated: 27 May 2016
GCHQ is the biggest government employer of linguists in Britain. We’re actively working to increase the number of school and university leavers who understand why having foreign language skills can be beneficial in a wide range of careers.

Over the last ten years GCHQ has worked with schools and universities up and down the country to encourage young people to continue studying languages, to give insights into the work of its analysts with language skills and to encourage an interest in less commonly taught languages. This year, for instance, GCHQ has also given school taster lessons in Korean, Serbo-Croat, Urdu, Russian and Arabic.

These and other languages can be studied from scratch at university by students who have demonstrated good skills at A-level in commonly-taught languages.

Languages such as those spoken in the family rather than learned in the classroom can also be very valuable to one’s career when combined with other professional skills.

Recently Director GCHQ Robert Hannigan personally welcomed Year 9 pupils to the agency’s Cheltenham headquarters for the final of the second biannual language competition held in association with the Association for Language Learning (ALL).

He said: “Language is at the heart of everything we do to keep Britain safe. I hope that all of the participants today have learnt that studying languages can be fun and that you can do interesting and worthwhile things with languages.

The event was open to all schools in Wiltshire, Somerset, Avon and Gloucestershire and featured entries in Russian, German, Spanish and French. The competition was won by a team from Sir Thomas Rich’s School in Gloucester. 

Pupils were able to practise their teamwork, research and presentation skills as well as using a real world situation in which to employ the language skills learned in the classroom. 

On the day, pupils spoke to GCHQ staff about different aspects of GCHQ’s intelligence and information security missions and attended language lessons in Chinese, Urdu, Persian, Korean, Arabic and Russian.

Tom Hockaday, Secretary of the West of England Branch for ALL, said: “On behalf of the Association for Language Learning we’re really grateful to the schools outreach team at GCHQ for their efforts in co-ordinating the competition and putting together a finals event that will stay in students’ memories for many years to come.

The Head of Languages at GCHQ said: “It’s really exciting that we’ve had such excellent and interesting presentations. It’s been particularly pleasing to have entries in languages you don’t see taught in schools that often, such as Russian. 

Language learning is a lot of fun, and knowing other languages to a good level can be a real asset in a wide range of careers. We really enjoyed introducing the students to a range of less commonly taught languages, and giving them some insight into what we do here.

The Association for Language Learning runs a number of events for teachers of languages, the details of which are available on their website www.all-languages.org.uk  

Schools interested to know more about GCHQ’s language outreach activities are invited to visit the Community and Education section of the GCHQ website. 


2016 GCHQ All Schools Year 9 Language Challenge winners
Sir Thomas Rich’s School, Gloucester - All Schools Year 9 Language Challenge winners ©GCHQ 2016