Studying Modern Languages: what skills do you gain and how are these relevant in work?

Elizabeth Insley, University of Warwick student and E3 Legal and Property Research Analyst shares some of the benefits of studying modern languages and how these skills are relevant to business.

Languages

Elizabeth Insley is a second-year French with Spanish student at the University of Warwick. She joined E3 as a Legal and Property Research Analyst in the summer of 2018 and continues to remotely work part-time whilst studying. She has been involved in conducting research into the legal sector and helping to improve E3’s induction process, as well as attending networking events and completing a variety of other tasks. Here, she shares some of the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits of studying modern languages and her personal experiences of how these skills are relevant to business.

There are three clear pathways after studying modern languages at university: teaching, translation or working in global business. Speaking a foreign language (or two) is a large advantage in life, but other than being able to enjoy holidays abroad without needing to awkwardly gesticulate to communicate with the locals, what other skills does a languages’ degree cultivate? I have been incredibly surprised to discover the extent to which I utilise the skills that I have developed at university in my role at E3 – having previously thought that few subjects could be more different that modern languages (specifically French and Spanish) and property tax – and would like to highlight a few.

Foreign language capabilities

Regardless of the industry in which you work, it is likely that at some point in your career you will come across the requirement for a foreign language and although the language barrier is far from insurmountable, Google Translate cannot be relied upon to accurately convey subtle meaning. This is more applicable in an international company or role but is nevertheless a skill which can be of great value at the most unexpected of points and whilst I am yet to formally use my foreign language skills at E3, I imagine the day I meet a French or Spanish speaker at a networking event is likely to happen soon.

Knowledge of cultures

In addition to speaking a foreign language, there is the understanding of the culture which is so closely intertwined with it. This is gained through learning about a country’s history, literature and politics and provides a unique insight into the many aspects of another country, particularly when recognising the impact this can have on business interactions and approaches. Learning about how everyday life differs across the world often leads to being more open-minded and self-aware and is a valuable skill in both a personal and business context which relies heavily on cultivating positive and lasting relationships. Part of my legal research at E3 involved gathering information on specific types of firm, for which a knowledge of different cultures was incredibly useful. If a firm is originally French for example, I would be able to apply my knowledge of French history and culture and consider the impact that this could have on the company’s business approach and outlook.

Deeper understanding of English

Paradoxically, learning the nuances of another language’s grammar teaches you about your mother tongue, such as apostrophe placement or word class. In a business environment, it is essential that both internal and external communications are of a consistently high standard, thus a detailed knowledge of English grammar is an invaluable skill. This has been vital in my time with E3, such as when drafting, reviewing and proofing reports or articles.

Ability to tailor language to a purpose

Effectively translating a text means transferring its core meaning whilst taking into account the context, audience and purpose. As a result, you usually become more aware of purpose and technique, which improves your ability to write effectively, both personally and professionally, in your own language. Whilst at E3, for each task I considered the audience, purpose, outcome and how I was going to communicate it, ensuring that the content and presentation matched accordingly. When presenting my legal research for example, I included a glossary of sector specific terms and made sure to briefly explain any specific vocabulary as I recognised that not everybody would have the same existing knowledge on the topic.

Analytical and research skills

As with all humanities subjects, modern languages’ students usually develop the ability to research and critically analyse a topic. This includes reading contextual information and critical interpretations to enrich your understanding of a topic, constantly questioning the information’s validity and relevance whilst often considering the impact of a different country, culture and language. This skill was particularly pertinent in my role at E3, as my research into the legal sector played upon the very same skills I use every time I write an essay or read around a subject. I was already armed with the research approaches I had built up in my studies and could work through the research much more effectively, for example when finding a magazine’s editorial details or specific information in the depths of a company’s website or understanding the importance of an accompanying glossary or appendix.

As previously mentioned, studying modern languages allows you to develop your knowledge of English grammar and attention to detail whilst becoming fluent in one or more foreign tongues. Throughout my time at E3 I often used skills from my degree in seemingly unrelated tasks, which in turn enhanced the quality of work which I produced. Similarly, since returning to university I have profited from the research skills which I have developed further and the confidence which has grown (and continues to grow) throughout my time at E3. I am excited to see what new and developing transferable skills are revealed as I confront my year abroad and the rest of my degree, and how these emerge and adapt within a work context.

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