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Modern Languages Careers Forum

Wednesday, 15 October, 2014 -- Helen Wilson

There are many discussions in the press about whether students should carry on with a language to degree level.  Are there really advantages in the job market for Graduates who speak a second language or is their focus best spent somewhere else? We bought together a panel of Old Elthamians and current Parents who spoke about their experience of using a second, third and in some cases fourth language in the work place.

The message came across very strongly that in this Global market place, speaking a second language has huge advantages.  More business is being done with the Middle East, North Africa, the Far East and South America than ever before. Being able to engage with colleagues not only in an office environment but in a social one has become more important than ever. 
Having a second language means that you stand out, it can differentiate you from other Graduates applying for a role.  With many people now leaving university with a 2:1 degree, having something that separates you from the rest, can make all the difference in securing a role.

For all the panelists, a second language has given them the opportunity to work abroad.  Would they have been able to take on those roles if they only spoke English? In some cases yes, but all said that the advantage of speaking another language was that they were successful in thier jobs because they were able to converse with more colleagues and locals of that country.  Their language skills opened doors for them and to this day, keep giving them an advantage. Between them all, the panelists have worked in Africa, throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and America.

There is also a very simple pleasure in being able to immerse yourself in the culture of another country by speaking the language.  To be able to read a menu, order food, listen to the news and converse with local people in their own language, is a wonderful way of enjoying visiting another country.

The final message to come from one of the panelists was around just how many people English as a second language. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica around 400 million people speak English as their first language, a further 500 million speak it as their second language, and approximately 1 billion people worldwide speak a small amount of English.  That means that by speaking only English, you are already at a disadvantage compared to the 1.5 billion people who speak it along with their own native tongue.   

Thank you to OE Alex Wort (2008) Joy Solomon (Parent) Martin Broadhurst (Parent) Tim Walters (Parent) OE Ian Ingram (1962) and John Corlett (2006) for coming along to speak on the evening.