Learning Language Skills for Your Career
The United Kingdom is as renowned for its variant of English as it is for being closed to foreign languages. In a globalised world where the American model has prevailed, it has become fairly difficult to land a job unless English is one of the candidate’s foreign language skills. With millions of people practising it on a daily basis worldwide, this language has been the global lingua franca for dozens of years now. The status and privilege of English and English native speakers can indeed help them find a job abroad, but, in an ever more competitive job market, learning one or more foreign languages can make them stand out from the crowd, especially in a Brexit-stricken Great Britain whose status seems to be on the verge of a looming crisis.
Learning new foreign language skills is challenging, but it can be extremely rewarding. There is a plethora of problems and difficulties that arise at first, such as how to choose the target language and how to go about learning it; nonetheless, we ought to keep in mind our aim and strive forward.
How to choose a foreign language for your career
If you already have a job and are looking for a CV-booster for your career path or for another one, then why not try to do some research and see if there is a language that is considered to be particularly important or helpful when doing business in your field? For instance, fashion or design might call for a decent knowledge of Italian or French; engineering and other technical fields often require at least some basic knowledge of German. Whatever your field, there are always foreign language skills that can help you achieve better results: not only because it allows you to communicate efficiently to possible customers abroad or to potential foreign-language employers, but first and foremost because learning a new language broadens your horizon and can lead to a great deal of satisfaction. The ability to speak a foreign language is often empowering and can be a decisive career maker for people working in a field that is very much oriented towards – or that is at any rate dominated by – specific countries. In this case, English can indeed be used as a lingua franca, but why not try your hand at a different language so that you can establish a more authentic connection to your field?
If you are still looking for a job and are unsure about what field you would like to operate in, learning new foreign language skills is not only a means to an end, that is a way to improve your CV, but it can also help you understand what truly enthuses you. Every language, in fact, comes with a full-grown cultural system that enables you to explore fields you might never have considered before. If you are intrigued by the sweet sounds of languages such as French and Spanish, for instance, why not discover their delicious cuisine and the wine-making processes behind their best wines? If that trip to Switzerland or Berlin you took years ago opened up new possibilities in terms of lifestyle, deepening your knowledge of German could eventually contribute to a new worldview that feeds into your career path. Any aspect of a foreign language can potentially open up a whole new world of possibilities, so make sure you stay alert and seize any opportunity that comes your way: you know where you start off but you never know where a new language and culture can lead you.
How to learn a language for your career
Once you have settled for one language or another, you are confronted with a vast array of possibilities. By and large, trusting those ‘learn a language in 10 days’ books or programmes might turn out to be a bitter disappointment. When learning a new language, make sure you have the right material. There are innumerable books for this, but ask around and see which one is recommendable and which ought to be avoided. For instance, starting with a grammar book can help you set up a decent background so that you can then work on your vocabulary and your spoken language. Grammar is an incredible tool, but make sure that you understand and memorise the rules before diving head first into the exercises. For most native speakers of English, foreign-language grammar can be quite tricky and, in a way, it is something for which you need to acquire a taste first. English grammar is not particularly challenging, especially if compared to that of languages such as Spanish or German; be aware of the disadvantages of every approach and ensure you use the best aspects of each of them to build your foreign language skills more effectively.
Vocabulary is one of those aspects of foreign language skills that you build step by step, so take your time and start with just a few basic words. Write all the new words in a separate booklet which you can then easily leaf through when in doubt. Divide the vocabulary by lexical category: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Make sure you write down any valency or agreement rules next to the new item: some languages still have cases or use the subjunctive, so know your grammar and revise it on a regular basis. It is always recommendable to study the gender of each noun as you encounter it, as English does not distinguish between a masculine or feminine (or neuter, for languages such as German) in most cases whereas many other languages do. The plural form comes in pretty handy for languages such as German that form the plural in several ways. For languages with particularly tricky verb conjugations, make sure you have another booklet where you can write them down so that you can memorise them more easily and read through them in case you do not remember them exactly. There are also several websites that give you the full conjugation table for Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and many other languages. The internet is a great resource when it comes to learning new foreign language skills: there is a wide variety of websites with grammar exercises and vocabulary builders; just google what you need and something good will come up!
If you are learning a foreign language because it is particularly valuable in your field, build up your specific vocabulary step by step and revise it every time you are dealing with certain items or aspects of your professional life, it will help you memorise the words and useful phrases in your field. The best way of learning a new language is always to practise it, even to yourself if you are not fortunate enough to have a native speaker close at hand at any time of the day.
A language course is often the ideal way of learning new foreign language skills if you do not feel like teaching it to yourself or if you feel like you do not have the resources or the time to do so. Entrusting somebody else to teach you a language means that you trust their knowledge and competence, so do make sure you are not wasting your time and look for the best course for you. It is not necessary to start with a business German course, you can easily start with a general basic German course for instance and then see how it goes. The advantage of taking part in a course is that the teacher will guide you in your approach to the language and will probably blend all its different aspects for you. Even in this case practice is of paramount importance: if you meet up twice a week in class, make sure you fit at least two weekly sessions into your schedule to revise what you went through in class and prepare for your next session. Practice often means exercise, so do your homework and do not underestimate the importance of this! Learning is difficult, especially if you have been working for a while, but you will find that it gets easier if you do it on a regular basis.
Whatever you decide to do, whether you want to try and teach it to yourself or you have in mind the perfect course for you, do bear in mind that practice and exercise are always necessary in order to acquire a new way of speaking and of seeing the world. A language is like a pearl: it remains alive and beautiful as long as you keep wearing it on a daily basis.