For most young teenagers, the future is a distant land. The world of work is a lifetime away, schooling and education is a mere necessity and communication is the key to ensuring the only success relevant at that age: social success. What skills are needed to ensure this success? Strong communication skills, ambition, confidence, an open mind, an awareness and understanding of other languages and cultures, tolerance and compassion to number but a few.
But how does one gain these skills? As a rule, foreign languages have generally been taught and promoted as a subject, learning a new language is commonly seen as a daunting prospect and to most young learners appears to have no real-life context or relevance. Of course, a language is not a subject, it’s a life skill, the means in which we communicate each and every day, how we express ourselves, how we voice an opinion, how we build relationships; be it personal or professional. All of these skills required to become ‘socially successful’ can be acquired by learning a new language.
From an educational perspective, not only does learning a language improve overall literacy, it also broadens horizons and opens minds to a world of opportunities that were once strange, distant and yes, foreign. Skills developed by learning a language can be applied to a variety of jobs across sectors. Examples include Events Managers, Managing Directors, Project Managers and Translators, Corporate Bankers, Human Rights Educators, Museum and Art Gallery Grant Managers, Marketing and Communications Managers and much more. These are all skills that are also highly sought-after by employers therefore one would assume from this evidence that teenagers should want to learn languages.
“Learning another language is an enormous advantage. The ability to speak French and Italian has been a major help for me in my work as a journalist” says Huw Edwards, BBC Journalist (speaks Welsh, English, French and Italian).
In addition, Steve Beswick, Microsoft UK says “Having international experience is vital. When we are taking on people, we want someone with that experience, as they tend to be willing to be mobile within our global business. Someone who has done a languages degree or has it in their DNA is a good communicator and that’s a vital part of working in this industry.”
According to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2013 (which surveyed 294 businesses employing some 1.24 million people) 70% businesses value foreign language skills among their employees, particularly in helping build relations with clients, customers and suppliers.
How can we ensure that pupils are made aware of the benefits of language learning? There is a lot of work currently being done in Wales by organisations such as Routes into Languages Cymru, a project that I coordinate, and CILT Cymru to promote languages and increase numbers studying MFL at GCSE level and beyond. At Routes Cymru we train students from our four partner universities; Cardiff University, Bangor University, Aberystwyth University and Cardiff Metropolitan University, to become language ambassadors with the aim of promoting languages within secondary schools in Wales.
Our aim is to support and encourage pupil and student aspiration and achievement and open their eyes to an alternative future. We must ensure that the young people of Wales can compete on an global level therefore learning a language will add this international dimension to their skill-set and outlook. This will not only improve their career prospects but also enhance their level of awareness and understanding of other cultures and encourage a deeper appreciation of their own, something not to be underestimated.
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