The linguists who have it all

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The Independent Online
Dean Lacey, 20, and Alan Mills, 21, illustrate the changing face of modern languages on United Kingdom campuses: the shift from studying languages on their own to combining a language with another subject to improve job prospects. Both are non-specialist students of French. They are taking a four-year MEng course with European studies at Southampton University, which means they are combining a mechanical engineering programme with French.

That way they end up with a master's instead of a bachelor's degree; they learn to use French in a specialist engineering setting; they attend a French university for a year and they do a placement this summer with a French firm.

"I feel that engineers tend to be fairly narrow, and I thought if I kept a language, I would keep my options open," says Dean Lacey. "Engineering is not as well respected in England as it is in other countries. Doing French gives me the option to go and work in France."

Both young men are spending the next academic year at the University of Tarbes in the French Pyrenees, where they will take engineering along with French undergraduates. This summer Dean will spend 10 weeks on an industrial placement with Ingersoll Dresser Pumps in Le Mans. Alan's placement has yet to be organised.

Although both have A-level French, they found the workload involved in adding French on to the normal bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering to be tough. It meant an extra two lectures a week. "It's hard work, but to a certain extent the French is a respite from the engineering," says Alan Mills.

They hope that the programme will give them an edge when it comes to looking for a job in an increasingly competitive market-place. Both can understand French and speak it. And both have had to write up a project in French. They would recommend the combined degree to anyone considering engineering - so long as they understand that it is not a soft option.