Case Notes: Business of modern languages proves a cultural experience
Ruth Sanderson got more than she planned out of her year in France - a job and a boyfriend
Friday 04 September 1998
Ruth says: "I've always been fascinated by languages, but I wanted to make sure the course I took would be relevant to the world of business."
The course Ruth chose included a year in France, and she spent her entire third year at the university, of Dijon, earning in the process the equivalent French degree of a BA hons, the "Licence".
Her two specialist languages were French and German, and as well as learning the language the course also took in the history, cultural aspects and the economic environment of the two countries.
Ruth said: "In the first year we covered business organisation and policy, marketing and international marketing, as well as nations studies, which looks at various aspects of the history of each country, such as the collaboration in France." This particular course did not include any literature, and most of the language work consisted of translations and aural classes.
After the first year, most of the tutorials and lectures were held in the relevant language, often with the foreign language students attending Northumbria on the exchange scheme.
"We also had to put together specific projects focusing on certain regions. I chose Calais, and had to explain why it was good for business, the different grants available and the distribution channels," Ruth says.
"Other people were given a specific product to market in an area of the country. This was really good experience because you had to make contact with the relevant area, writing to the chambers of commerce in the different regions to find out about grants and such like." Ruth thoroughly enjoyed her year in France.
The University of Northumbria has strong links with Dijon, and around eight places were available for students in Ruth's year for exchange visits.
Students stay in the university accommodation, and can immerse themselves in both the language and the culture.
"Really, it's the only way to make yourself fully fluent," says Ruth.
"My French improved beyond measure in that year, because you were speaking it all day, every day. At first it was really hard in the lectures, because you felt you had to write every word down. But the other French students helped a lot."
The social life she found slightly disappointing, moving from the busy student city of Newcastle to the rather quieter environment of Dijon, and most of the French students tended to go home at the weekend rather than staying on campus.
Ruth also arranged to spend three months of one summer in Germany, not through the university, but through her own contacts. She went to work as an interpreter for a leading car manufacturer in Stuttgart, staying with a German family arranged by the firm.
After finishing her degree, Ruth considered taking a PGCE qualification to teach, but was then offered a job for a year teaching English back at the Dijon university. This was especially appealing because Ruth had met her boyfriend, who is French, on her exchange year.
Other students on the course have gone on to take postgraduate teaching degrees or taken up jobs in finance, sales and marketing, using their languages as an opportunity to travel.
Ruth says: "Ultimately I think I would like to go into business, and being fluent in two foreign languages should give me a big advantage."
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