MFL in the Modern Workplace Talk to Students!
A few years ago I was asked if I would be part of a series of talks to pupils just before they needed to make their subject choices. I was to be the last of six speakers to speak of their love of modern foreign languages. After watching the first five speakers my palms started to sweat as I believed I had got it so wrong.
Everyone ahead of me was fluent in their chosen language, I wasn’t. Additionally they had all led exciting lives in the world of academia and taken their language skills further, I hadn’t. They all had successful careers at Universities, whilst I was just someone from the corporate sector. Although a typical yet potential employer. As silence fell and my name was announced as the next speaker, I walked nervously to the microphone. This was when I made an on the spot decision to tell these young adults exactly what the real world of work is like and how having a second language can help get a better job.
The kids were great, as were the staff, and I was told by a teacher that I was a breath of fresh air, which was nice! Students really engaged with the bloke form the North and we had some fun. I was surprised to discover that many of them had been instilled with the STEM philosophy for so long, as encouraged by the government, that they didn’t feel they needed a second language skill however basic. Obviously nobody in government had thought to ask the corporate sector what they would like to see in young people these days. Students believed that taking a language meant they had to be languages teachers or interpreters. Although a fine career it’s not what many of them wanted to do. So I soon put that right!
We discussed my role as a company director, and that I didn’t do well at school. I was bullied and grew up on a large council estate in Leeds. However, I can pinpoint the exact time when my life began to change for the better and that was when I had a basic second language. I had left school and had fallen into languages by accident, but it really did change my life forever. Not because of travel, confidence, year abroad and all these other things pupils hear, but because it enabled me to earn more money and become more employable.
To my surprised I was a huge success. There was obviously a hiatus during the COVID lockdowns but I have now completed 33 of these talks to various schools with another 26 scheduled and 52 requests pending. Judging by some of the Twitter comments from staff and parents I can only assume they have all gone very well.
I am not sure if it’s me, as I have never been popular before, or my Northern bluntness and charm, but let’s keep getting this message out to students. Languages is for life, not just for teaching. Any chosen career in any walk of life, from any background having a second language, not fluent, will really help you get a good job. As an employer I see prospective candidates all with the same STEM qualifications. I dream of reading a CV with something different, such as a software engineer with basic language skills.