Runner-up of the student award 2010: My future employability: the benefits of a languages, linguistics or area studies degree

Author: Rosie Shimmin


Rosie Shimmin, a 4th year German and Politics student at Cardiff University, was a runner up in the Subject Centre's undergraduate student award competition 2010.

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Rosie Shimmin

My future employability: the benefits of a languages degree

If I hear the words, “What are your plans for next year?” one more time I think I will actually cry. Seriously, having thought it was achievement enough to even survive three years of a language degree (and a year abroad to boot) it seems that we graduates haven’t even won half the battle yet and are, in fact, now faced with the daunting prospect of having to make “real life” decisions! Of course we’re scared, and of course we’re panicking but it doesn’t matter how much we stick our heads in the sand and waste our last days of studentdom sitting in the library stressing about the marks we wish we’d concentrated on getting when we were younger, full of the joys of university and not nursing the beginnings of a beer belly, unfortunately graduation is still going to happen to us. And so, the question comes back like a broken record… “What are your plans for next year?”

Thank goodness for language degrees that’s what I say. Not only do we get four years to put off the imminence of the real world, but our prospects really don’t look too bleak. The problem comes when we have to choose what to do first. With a year in foreign climes under our belts, we are pretty much set to face the world of work. The experience of living abroad turns the idea of living and working anywhere into something more than a dream or a flippant remark. My year away made me realise that that the world is in fact full of people just like me. People who live, love, laugh and do ordinary things like brushing their teeth! They’re only human, just like me … it’s a shock. Being able to communicate in another language feels like a super power and being able to understand day to day conversations on public transport feels like being an undercover cop. Nobody suspects a thing, amazing!

..."Living, breathing and loving a different country shows that you are adaptable, responsible and ambitious"...


So, with the idea that we can conquer the world with a confident swagger in our step, what jobs are actually available to language graduates? Of course, there are the generic options that have every recently confirmed linguist nervously twitching. “Are you going to be a teacher?” Or the possibility of being a translator looms. The title “translator” sounds so official, but actually it turns out that translating doesn’t just happen at big important UN meetings or within the walls of the European Parliament. Translation as a profession could mean a job in absolutely any area of business worldwide. Understanding and communication is inherent in any form of business transaction and the ability to advertise a product to a wider spectrum of people makes being the translator for any company a worthwhile job.

But options for language graduates don’t just stop at these two brilliant, but rather tame ideas. The words: “I can also speak a second language,” are like gold dust in any interview. In addition to this, you can tell them how you survived a year abroad. Living, breathing and loving a different country shows that you are adaptable, responsible and ambitious. Being able to speak a second language doubles, even triples, your options of job location. You could work in a café in Italy, be a personal assistant in Strassburg or a holiday rep. in Spain. These may sound like lowly jobs for university graduates but they will not only improve your language skills, they will also look great on your CV for prospective jobs. Doing a year of just working and living abroad will also give you the time to think about what it is you are good at and really want to do. No career has to start immediately after your degree! A foreign languages degree means that you can bide your time but still do something relevant and worthwhile while you ponder what to do next.

Some people go out and work in ski resorts, others become au pairs. The British Council offers teaching experience through the assistantship scheme where you teach young people your mother tongue; they even train you! The government has said that from this year on, modern foreign language learning will be compulsory for all young people from age 7 to 14. There is still a way to go until studying a language at GCSE-level is obligatory, but still, the scheme offers plenty of jobs to help train teachers and to encourage a love of language learning in a country where foreign languages are seen to be unnecessary. “But everyone speaks English.”

The skills we learn through studying a language also mean that we have a greater understanding of our own mother tongue, something that not everyone possesses. Many jobs will look for applicants who are good communicators, a skill that comes with the title of second language speakers. Being able to express yourself is important in the work place and advantageous in the field of journalism or the civil service. Governmental work also looks for people who can communicate at all levels of society. Speaking a foreign language forces you to consider your audience, it encourages you to think over exactly what it is you want to say and how you want to say it. It is this skill of taking a step back and taking time to use the right words that would help in any political situation. Words are powerful things and to be able to master them in more than one language is a talent worth employing.

Having written this essay I suddenly feel less overwhelmed by the prospect of what I am going to do next year. My life doesn’t have to start here, but I am lucky to have such a useful degree. You hear over and over again that languages open doors and it’s not such a cliché after all. With languages comes great power and with power comes great responsibility. But this responsibility doesn’t have to be serious and settled down yet. It can be an adventure. The only responsibility you really have is to yourself. You have to make sure that you enjoy whatever you do, and carry on loving your languages.