Learning A Language: The Employability Advantage?

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With foreign language skills increasingly becoming either a desirable or essential quality for employers, developing your language skills could be the key to getting yourself into the world of work.

While in many sectors languages are not essential, they are increasingly seen as a transferable skill – and often one which can attract increased salary offers when looking for work. Being able to speak German, Japanese and French have all been found to increase the salaries of workers in the US, whilst here in the UK German, Arabic and French were the three best paid languages.

The languages which offer the highest salary premiums aren’t necessarily those with the most job opportunities out there, however. While data from job search engine Adzuna found that jobs requiring German (average salary £34,534), Arabic (average salary £34,122) and French (average salary £32,646) were among both the highest paying languages in the UK and those with the most job opportunities available, there were more positions available for languages which paid less than the top ten such as Swedish and Polish. So, while learning Welsh may net you a higher salary (£27,857 on average) – jobs requiring the language may be much more difficult to find compared to other tongues which are spoken more widely.

Learning any language can also give you transferable skills which are useful in any line of work – including inter-cultural awareness, communication, confidence and teamwork.

There’s much less competition among foreign language speakers here in the UK than in some other European countries as well – as a nation, only 38 per cent of Britons speak a foreign language, compared to 56 per cent on average across Europe as a whole. Languages can also open up opportunities in the workplace which are not available to those who only speak English – such as the opportunity to travel as part of your job and attend events taking place overseas.

You also have many more opportunities to find a permanent job in another country, either for a few years or a longer period of time. Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2017 shows that out of those who graduated from full or part time degrees at UK institutions in 2015-16, 7,165 of the 281,750 graduates that year went to work abroad in 89% of the nations around the world in the first six months after finishing their degrees. Destinations close to home such as France (the most popular country among those working abroad), and Spain attracted most of those who went to work abroad, but many also went further afield – including to China. It’s worth noting that there are more opportunities for working abroad in some sectors than others – 34.3% of those who found employment abroad graduated from STEM degrees, though that doesn’t mean that your chosen degree should restrict where you can go and what you can do.

University is one of the best times to pick up a language due to the opportunities that are on offer. Here at Southampton you can sign up for one of the free Language Opportunity Courses at either Avenue Campus or Winchester School of Art, choose to study a language as a minor or an elective alongside many degree combinations, or if you’ve previously learnt a language but need to start practising again to bring yourself up to speed you can attend the weekly Language Exchange events. If you are about to graduate or are too busy to attend any of the events taking place on campus, it isn’t too late – you can download an app such as Duolingo and learn at your own pace as and when you have the time. There are also several language schools and initiatives which will enable you to go abroad during the holidays to learn in a country where the target language is spoken – either at a language school or as part of a work opportunity such as au pairing.

Regardless of your skill level, taking the time to learn a foreign language will be something unique for your CV that will help you stand out in an increasingly crowded jobs market.

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Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages graduate interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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