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Working Lunch Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
The language of business
Adam talks to EuroTalk chairman Richard Howeson
Adam talks to EuroTalk chairman Richard Howeson

A language dies somewhere in the world every two weeks.

There are around 6,000 languages spoken at the moment and experts expect there to be no speakers for about half of these by the middle of the next century.

At the same time we're always being told that not enough of us are learning a second language.


So it seems strange that a small company in London is achieving success selling language courses in some very unusual tongues.

EuroTalk Interactive sells CD and CD-Rom courses in over 80 languages, from Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, to Zulu.

Welsh is one of its most popular courses and it plans to release a Cornish CD later this month.


Their ability to produce courses in more obscure languages rests on the design of their product, which has won them a Queen's Award for Innovation.

The computer programmes are built around a template which can be cheaply adapted for different languages.

The same programme can also teach the target language to speakers of over 80 languages.

Therefore one product can be sold all over the world.

Indeed 70% of their sales come from abroad.

Low production costs mean that EuroTalk can afford to produce a course in Jerriais, the ancient language of Jersey, which is only spoken by about 2,000 people.

The company was started 0 years ago without any venture capital or grants.

The first CD-Rom to be launched was a series of language courses using the cartoon character Asterix.

Now EuroTalk's sales are 2m and their products are available in over 140 countries.

They expect to offer courses in over 100 languages by January.

One of their CDs is now the number one selling language course in the United States.


EuroTalk chairman Richard Howeson reports that there is often strong pressure on the company to produce courses in minority languages.

In the case of Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man, the company received a phone call asking how many orders they'd need to make a course in Manx financially viable.

"We then received an order for that amount from the Isle of Man government," Mr Howeson said.

"The course is now used by the government and in Isle of Man schools."

Mr Howeson was brought up in Cornwall and is keen to encourage the learning of Cornish, also known as Kernuak.

The government will not decide on whether to give Cornish official protection under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages until later in the autumn, but many expect that they will.

"Official status for the language would produce funds to encourage the learning of Cornish," Mr Howeson said.

It would also mean that it would be illegal for public bodies to discriminate against Cornish speakers or to suppress the language in any way.

"It's good that the European Commission is trying to protect local cultures and languages at the same time as creating a single market," Mr Howeson said.

Future plans

"It was Churchill who said that there will only be peace in our time when we all speak the same language.

But I think we should all make an effort to communicate with people of all cultures."

Around 3,500 people have some knowledge of Cornish.

Five hundred people are believed to use it, but just 100 are fluent speakers.

Mr Howeson concedes that it will be hard for EuroTalk to make money on the product.

But EuroTalk is already looking to see which minority languages we will want to learn in the future.

Other than Cornish, Richard Howeson is planning courses in Hawaiian, Maori and, believe it or not, Klingon.

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