How Foreign Languages Can Help You Get Ahead

Bonjour! Ciao! Gia’sou!

Saturday 26th September marked the European Day of Languages. A Council of Europe initiative the aim of the day is to:

Highlight the importance of “…plurilingualism and intercultural understanding”; promote “…the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe…”; and encourage “…lifelong language learning in and out of school…”. Yay!

Unfortunately, the UK is famed for being a bit lax when it comes to linguistic skills, costing the country 3.5% of GDP every year – that’s £48bn – according to government statistics.

So, what are employers really asking for? And, in which language?

Why Languages?

With languages languishing rather low on the UK curriculum the British Council has urged schools to give them the same status as sciences and maths.

An increasingly global workplace means that 41% of businesses believe a foreign language is beneficial, according to the CBI, while 28% think they’re useful for building overseas relations.

In essence: foreign language skills are a key component to today’s career toolkit.

Which Language?

Right now the UK’s export market is still EU-focused, meaning French, German and Spanish language skills top the recruiter wish list.

But Mandarin and Arabic are increasingly considered desirable, with emerging markets, like Latin America, meaning Portuguese skills might be a good addition to your Spanish.

Remember – check out what’s relevant to your sector before taking the language learning plunge.

Linguistic Skills Alone are Not Enough…

If you’ve specialised in languages at uni you may find yourself in a career quagmire. Many students study languages in the misguided belief they’re the key to career nirvana, only to find zero, zip, zilch, nada.

The British Chamber of Commerce says: “Pure language degrees are often seen as less valuable by prospective employers than degrees that combine other core skills.”

The key? Get your sector core skills covered and supplement them with an in demand language, or languages, to give yourself the recruitment edge.

Not Just a CV Accessory

The Guardian’s Case for Language Learning echoed the British Council’s demand for more emphasis to be put on languages in UK schools.

But, one of the most interesting findings was the need to recognise languages as “… more than providing a career boost.”

Professor Katrin Kohl said: “Learning a language is not only tough but may be dull unless it involves intellectual challenges, cultural attractions and communicative rewards.”

It’s vital to remember that primarily learning a language is something that can broaden your mental horizons in a multitude of exciting ways!

Enhanced Communication

Beyond the obvious fact you’ll be able to say more than “Sushi!” to the Tokyo office if you speak some Japanese the benefits of learning a language reaches far further.

Like swimming, learning a foreign language exercises all your communication muscles!

It can even improve your ability to communicate in your native dialect, as forming sentences and conjugating all those irregular verbs gives you greater understanding of language mechanics.

Tell Us More …

Most people don’t make the most of their language skills on their CV. Saying you speak excellent Spanish, for example, means different things to different people.

Clarify your capabilities with a brief explanation, such as:

– Having lived and worked in Spain for 5 years my Spanish skills are excellent
– I studied Spanish literature and have a comprehensive understanding of written Spanish
– Originally from Mexico I speak fluent Spanish

This helps give your recruiter an idea of the extent and type of skills you have to offer.

Learn Watching TV & Other Tips

Learning languages is no longer limited to reading a book or listening to tapes.

Katharine B. Nielson, chief education officer at Voxy, a language-learning company based in New York advises harnessing everyday technology when it comes to improving language skills, because:

“[P]eople learn languages best when real-life stakes are involved.”

Her top 3 tips are:

● Watch foreign movies with foreign subtitles to improve your skills – this way you’re more likely to understand the film and learn from it.
● Listen to directions on your GPS – research shows learning a language by way of real, daily tasks is very effective.
● Change your settings – changing the language settings on your phone and computer gives you ample opportunities to work on your reading skills.

Next Steps: Are your foreign language skills up to muster?

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