Speaking languages will open up your future

If you want to create the right impression, don't be tongue-tied, says Dan Poole

Passport? Check. Plane tickets? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Foreign language? Pardon? When you're packing travel essentials for a visit abroad, being able to speak the language of the country you're visiting isn't necessarily first on the list. You might assume that you'll manage by speaking English, but in fact 75 per cent of the world's population won't be able to understand you. Even if they do, you'll be missing out, because being able to speak to people in their own language opens up all sorts of possibilities. You will learn a lot more about a country's culture and, because you are making the effort, you will invariably have the goodwill of the people you talk to. They are more likely to want to help you and, crucially, you'll understand what they're telling you when they do!

Vicky Wright, director of the centre for language study at the University of Southampton, says: "Students tell me that learning a language means finding out more about yourself by learning about others. Those who have been on a year abroad come back saying that they look at their lives in the UK through new eyes."

Studying a language isn't just about learning how to read, write and speak it; skills such as negotiating, analysing and presenting are transferable skills for many careers. Leyla Berksoy, 20, is in her first year of studying Turkish at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. She has enjoyed the different subjects she's covering in her degree: "I studied Turkish culture and advanced translation from English to Turkish this year, and next year I'll be doing literature and hopefully some history too. There are students from all types of different backgrounds so it's interesting to hear their views about Turkey, and we have some interesting discussions."

What's more, learning a language is good for your brainpower. Researchers at University College London found that learning a language alters grey matter - the part of your brain responsible for processing information - in the same way that physical exercise builds up your muscles. Scientists have already shown that the brain can change its structure as a result of stimulation and learning languages is a way of developing this.

Learning a language is a smart move when it comes to your career prospects too. UK graduates in modern languages have been to shown to have one of the lowest unemployment rates, and that's because over 60 per cent of UK trade is with non-English speaking countries but only 1 in 10 UK workers can speak a foreign language. Michael Hutt, dean of languages at SOAS, says: "If the career market is full of people with a BA in economics, then somebody with a BA in economics and Hindi will stand out. It shows the ability to think beyond your immediate cultural and linguistic assumptions."

While there are obvious careers for graduates with language skills to go into - translating or interpreting for example - it can be an advantage across the board. Many companies operate on a global scale and communication is an important element in any industry. Banking, computing, journalism, marketing, travel and tourism are all areas where a modern language will speak volumes on your CV. This variety is also apparent in the subjects you can combine a language with for a joint honours degree; economics, management, music, physics, IT and engineering, to name just a few.

Many degrees offer the exciting option of studying abroad for a year, and not necessarily just language degrees. History students, for example, might take the opportunity of having some work experience in another country, having done a specially tailored language course beforehand. Otherwise, you can invariably study a foreign language as a credited module within whatever degree you are doing, or you could choose to study a language separate to your degree.

That's what Mark Lee is doing. He's 23 and a master of engineering student in his fourth year, studying electronics at the University of Southampton. He's also taking a beginners' course in German at the centre of language studies. It means an increased workload but he says: "English is often the common language in international engineering but if you want to form close partnerships with the people you're working with, speaking their language is a big step towards that."

Above all, learning a language is fun, and you shouldn't be daunted by the idea that you have to understand it inside out and back-to-front. "We have something in our psyche that says if we're speaking a foreign language we have to speak it perfectly," says Isabella Moore, director of the National Centre for Languages (CILT). "But you don't! You can get by with communicating in a foreign country by just having a basic knowledge. Of course there are different levels of competence but it's about having the confidence to come out of your comfort zone." A one-way ticket out of the comfort zone it is then!

Further information

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)

There is an easy-to-use course search facility where you can type in the language you would like to study and read a list of the universities that offer it at undergraduate level

The National Centre for Languages (CILT)

This Government-recognised site has information on training and learning and links to language publications and services

Languages Work

Find out why learning a foreign language is such a good idea!

Advice and information on working abroad, long- or short-term.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape