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Willie Cameron, founding Director of The Cobbs Group of Companies

My name is Willie Cameron and I was one of the founding Directors of The Cobbs Group of Companies. We have hotels, coffee shops, retail units and a bakery in various locations throughout Scotland, with our base at Loch Ness.

Why have languages been important to you personally?

Languages are very important in my family.

I was brought up in a Gaelic speaking household on the Island of Harris, and my first language was Galiec until, at the age of four, I arrived on the Scottish mainland and started speaking English. I also studied French at school.

My first wife spoke French as a second language as she was brought up in Quebec, Canada, and my daughter speaks French and English as well as Thai, having lived in Thailand for nearly eight years.

My second wife is a fluent Italian speaker and both my stepchildren speak Italian. My son, Marco, does his business in Italian and graduated in Italian at the age of 43 as a mature student. My daughter, Michele, both speaks and teaches Italian and English in Singapore and has lived in China, where she spoke a little Mandarin.

Why are language skills important in Hospitality?

We have many nationalities working for us across The Cobbs Group, and certainly being based at Loch Ness, the world comes to see us. Last year we had twelve nationalities working in our company. so we are a multilingual business.

Languages are vitally important today as the world is getting smaller and it is so easy to travel to far-off places, so having a second language is an added advantage for leisure as well as for securing employment. Even if you remain on these shores, a second language can be equally important in hospitality, judicial services, industry, tour-guiding, the service industry and in medicine. We have so many visitors from other countries, and knowing another language can make them feel both welcome and appreciated in our land.

What other benefits do you think language skills bring?

Cultural awareness is extremely important because we are all different and one has to appreciate that when one is on holiday or when one is doing business with a customer or client from another culture. What we find acceptable they may not, and vice-versa. For example, the Chinese like to have little flasks filled with hot water regularly, and we can find this strange; Italians have pasta before their main course and after their starter, whereas we normally have pasta as a main course; Thai people like to bow when we meet and we shake hands. These are all cultural differences, and when we appreciate them it can make doing business together much more straightforward.

My son does business in Italy, and he has found that his knowledge of Italian is a real advantage in that Italian business people will not try to pull the wool over his eyes in negotiations. So additional languages have many advantages.

What memorable moments have you had with languages?

In our hotel, it is useful to know even a little bit of a language, just to explain the menu or provide directions. One occasion when knowledge of a language was crucial was after a road traffic accident outside the hotel. Some Italian nationals had collided with another car, and my wife was able to step in and explain to the group what was happening, where the hospital was, etc, in their own language.

A second language is more than a bridge for communication; it is a stimulant for your cognitive functions, it will open doors for you, gain you respect with businesses overseas, introduce variety to your day-to-day life, make travel easier and raise your self-esteem.

You have a great opportunity – go that extra mile and learn a language – it will open doors, most definitely.

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