Pay attention, the professor is talking
Despite the good form his team have shown so far this season Arsene Wenger hasn’t brought back much silverware of late so his victory as the Guardian’s public language champion should be most welcome.
The Arsenal football club manager is no stranger to languages, fluent as he is in French, German and English. He also speaks Italian, Spanish and Japanese – teaching himself the Asian language while coaching Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.
The multi-talented Frenchman, whose nickname is Le Professeur, has even written a book on football management specifically for the Japanese market called Shōsha no Spirit.
His dedication to language has now been recognised in a poll voted for by Guardian readers to choose a public language champion for 2013.
The award is part of the British Academy and Guardian’s language learning series and campaign to start a national debate on language learning.
Wenger was named language champion at the same time as the British Academy announced its 2013 schools language awards winners.
The schools awards have been running for two years and are aimed at recognising and supporting innovative and creative foreign language teaching in secondary schools across the UK. However, this is the first year that a public language champion has been chosen.
Throughout his career, Wenger has been known for taking an interest in the development of his young players. But his commitment to learning doesn’t stop there. In 1998, Arsenal launched the Arsenal Double Club, which combined education with a football programme that allowed youngsters to learn subjects while also benefiting from some top-class football coaching. The club was formed to give young people an opportunity to engage with their academic studies in a fun way alongside football, with a particular focus on language learning.
After receiving the news, Wenger said: “Being voted Britain’s first ever public language champion is an incredible honour. I am very proud that Arsenal and I can help raise the profile of language learning in schools. I hope that this award and Arsenal’s Double Club can show that learning a new language does not always have to be a challenge and sport can help make it enjoyable learning.”
Tracing the route of Wenger’s interest in languages would lead you to his birth place Strasbourg, and then on to Duttlenheim where he was later raised.
Both these locations are in the region of Alsace, historically a hotly contested area on the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland.
The traditional language of Alsace was Alsatian, a Germanic dialect spoken in Lorraine and across the Rhine. However, today all Alsatians speak French.
The Guardian’s Wendy Berliner said: “As a nation we lag behind much of the rest of the world in our language capability and we need people who are willing to go out of their way to get the message across that learning languages can not only be fun and intellectually absorbing, but are essential to our economic success and security.
“This award is a key part of a two-year commitment with the British Academy to raising public dialogue over language learning. There were five very worthy people in our short list which was opened to a public vote and it is wonderful to see the work of the multi-lingual Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal Double Club recognised in this way.”