Students are often asking why they should learn a language as they cannot envisage how these skills will benefit them when they enter the employment market. Employers, on the other hand, would be quick to respond by stating that employees with language skills are more sought after than those without.
Businesses value language skills because they improve the organisation’s ability to communicate with foreign contacts and enhance their ability to sell goods or services in new overseas markets. Even if the business does not currently export, hiring an employee with a language is considered a wise investment for the future. The Business Language Champions scheme highlights this issue by getting business people to share their knowledge and experience with young people in the hope of persuading them to continue with their language studies.
If students can be shown that language employment is achievable and readily available then they may no longer need to question ‘why learn a language’ because the answer – that languages further their career prospects and increase opportunities – will be apparent to them.
BLC and other languages employer engagement projects encourage students to consider how the languages they are learning at school will help them when they come to look for work by demonstrating the scope and diversity of language employment. The programme enables youngsters to share in the experiences of business people through workshops, presentations and site visits aimed at demonstrating the importance of language skills within the workplace.
When teachers are asked specifically ‘why learn a language’ they can arrange, through Business Language Champions, to engage with a local employer which trades with overseas markets. Business representatives can then visit the school and share with students their own experience of using languages at work, giving examples of what the role demands and the increased opportunities their language skills have given them within that organisation.
Using languages to gain language employment will not appeal to all youngsters, but the realisation that these skills improve job prospects, irrespective of whether a role specifically calls for them, should be an incentive to continue studying languages.