Language students - the global leaders of tomorrow

Language students - the global leaders of tomorrow

Regent’s University London’s recent Languages and Employability Conference sought to answer two essential questions – ‘Does speaking more than one language make you more employable?’ and ‘Do graduates falling into this category earn more?’

It’s time universities stopped closing language departments

Welcoming over 200 guests, staff and students to the event Regent’s University London Vice Chancellor, Professor Aldwyn Cooper, quickly set the tone.

“It’s about time universities woke up to the fact that languages are important and stopped closing their language departments,” he said.

“At Regent’s we teach nine ‘economically-important’ languages, and have the highest percentage of international students of any university in Britain.

“Our students come from 142 countries. Some join us with five or more languages, and all of them can choose to learn languages on top of the subjects they're studying.”

On the issue of whether being multi-lingual helps students’ careers, Professor Cooper was in no doubt:

“Our destination surveys show Regent’s students are in the ‘top five’ for graduate starting salaries.”

Moved from speaking only English was asset, to where it's a liability

“Competence in another language should be part of the toolkit we provide young people with," said Richard Hardie, Vice-President of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

Mr Hardie is also chair of the British Academy's Born Global project, which is currently investigating employers’ needs for language skills.

On the subject of young people wanting to improve their employability prospects, he continued:

“We’ve moved from a world where speaking only English was an asset, to where it has become a liability.

“It should be a given that a young person entering employment in 2015 has a full working knowledge of a language other than their own.

“Why do we have so many non-Brits in senior positions when the US doesn’t? Because it has become increasingly easy to hire highly-skilled, multilingual young Europeans into UK jobs.”

English as a language alone won't do

The event’s panel of experienced employers – Gianpaolo Alfano, Manuela Doutel-Haghighi, Liz Harris and Andrew Keefe –discussed whether the workplace really needs graduates with language skills?

Working for four global organisations and possessing joint fluency in nine languages between them - including Kurmanci Kurdish - the group were overwhelmingly in favour of well–prepared graduates with a high proficiency in language skills.

Their comments included:

  • “If you speak more than one language do you earn more? You should because you're operating in a wider world. Languages don’t have to be studied full-time, they can be learnt in support of something else.” Gianpaolo Alfano, CEO Hip Hotels

 

  • “How many dollars did we lose because of a lack of language skills? If you want to make an impact with business you have to talk in figures.” Manuela Doutel-Haghighi, IBM UK

 

  • “For purposes of neutrality expat staff at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) can't originate from the countries they are assigned to. There are some 40 different professions at ICRC and English as a language alone won't do.” Liz Harris, Linguist recruiter

 

  • “Can psychotherapy be carried out and work via an interpreter? Yes, but the interpreter must be brought into the relationship.” Andrew Keefe, Freedom from Torture

La gêne ne tue pas (embarrassment won’t kill you)

The conference wouldn’t have been complete without hearing from a graduate who could best explain the real-world challenges of the job market, and Emilio Herrero, Regent’s alumnus, duly obliged.

A proficient speaker in Spanish, English, Catalan and French, Emilio is currently an Investor Relations Executive in a foreign exchange investment start-up, and also acts as a voluntary consultant in the Grow Movement for Africa, delivering business mentoring to African entrepreneurs.

He explained:

“You learn not just from books, but from your experiences and the people around you.

“The tenacity I developed in my year abroad has never left me. When I was in Montreal, the French-speaking part of Canada, I was the only Regent’s student there and arrived with no phone, no flat and no friends.

“I thought I would never be able to manage giving a presentation in French to 100 French students. Of course, I could have resorted to English, but the French have a saying – ‘La gêne ne tue pas,’ - ‘embarrassment won’t kill you.’

“Languages remove your fear of making a mistake and learning takes you out of your comfort zone.

“Having a degree alone isn’t good enough. Languages demonstrate motivation and differentiate you. Ultimately, the language students of today are the global leaders of tomorrow.”

For further details, comments, presentations and pictures from Regent’s University London’s Languages and Employability conference on 5 June 2015, please visit: