Here in the UK, Higher Education has become increasingly focused on the "employability" aspects of a degree. It's really a worldwide trend, and subjects like languages suffer as students turn to "Business Studies" to make sure they get a job afterwards. Having spent the last five years advising prospective students on their choice of study, let me fly the flag for the quirky subject choice. Here is what I think you should know before interviewing a languages graduate.
They add value
You only need English to buy a beer in Spain, but that won't do for business. In fact, the British Academy has found strong evidence of what they call a growing language deficit in the UK. We're in a big recession and business must look for the money, so if it's abroad, your best route in is with a few experts.
They aren't sheep
According to HESA, only 5.4% of all UK students take a language so unless you happen to hire a graduate who's a native speaker of another language you will have someone who is used to thinking as an individual and going against trends. And those are great attributes.
They are trained communicators
Today's Modern Languages degrees do more. Students are taken out of the classroom, present bilingual reports, produce accurate language in lab sessions and discuss what's going on in another country's news. Getting straight on the phone to your overseas agents should be a tried and tested experience for them.
They are independent
Language degrees in most countries contain a compulsory stay at a host university or a host enterprise in the target language country. What this means for an employer is that a candidate who has spent considerable time living and coping abroad. They are likely to be self-motivated, reliable and able to adapt to new situations.
They are ahead of others
Language graduates have gone through 3-4 years of intensive training in many aspects of their chosen language, and it's not something that can be learnt on the job. I've often heard that most practical skills can be taught to a new employee within a few months, but becoming fluent in a new language? Not likely. Well, unless you are Benny Lewis I guess.
Dear parents and recruiters. I am in no way implying that all of us languages graduates are all of the above. Just hoping.
Today's post was inspired by this interesting group blog I have come across recently. It's called Kanzilingua, apparently named after a an ape who's able to communicate in English. The blog features over 30 contributors, most of which are drawn from the UK's Modern Languages student community. Kanzilingua is worth a visit this month as they've declared March their careers month.
*Cultural note: The UK university system will require students to focus in on their major from year 1 of their degree. No declaring halfway through a sophomore year here!