EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Dear Sir,

I have found that despite speaking several European languages, I have recently not being able to find work that uses my languages. I have also noticed that most employers are not willing to pay for languages as a key work skill.

Check out the job adverts: despite people having spent years gaining language skills, it’s the business-related skills that are rewarded. If you don’t have the requisite sector skills – skills which you could learn on the job – then you don’t get an interview. Until employers value languages as a key transferable skill, the EU will continue “losing business”.

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  1. Unfortunately I have to agree with what Nicola Sanderson says. I myself graduated in languages, but translators’ or interpreters’ skills are not valued at all in the private sector. As long as people manage to communicate on a very basic level when they speak of their own specific technical field, it is considered OK, and what gets much more valued is the “figures”-related skills – either technical (e.g. engineers) or financial. People with languages as main competence have a hard time finding a job, unless they graduate – from further studying or from experience – in other fields. Their knowledge in languages is then considered a little “plus” – but nothing more – and not more than the language competence of a technical or financial person who can just manage to speak a foreign language.

    Unless language graduates want to end up being language teachers – but then again education offers limited job perspectives…

    But multilingualism is said to be considered an important topic. Well, yes, it is – provided that the idiom full of mistakes but still understandable spoken by chiefly technical or financial people is the sufficient norm.

  2. Ibn Khaldun states in his Muqaddima that language is a science auxiliary to the acquisition of what he calls knowledge per se. This is one of the facts of life that we know but fail to live by. Language is a soft skill that can only be useful if one possesses other ‘real’ skills. It is a ‘real’ skill for only a small number of people such as language teachers and translators. For the rest language should be an additive skill.

    However, when people in some countries cannot even get a job interview if they do not speak English, then one has to ask oneself what went wrong with the system. If English as a foreign language is imposed on people in non-English-speaking countries, language becomes more of a ‘real’ skill. Then one can come across people whose ‘real’ skills are below the standard, but who nonetheless get hired because they possess the imposed soft skill i.e. English.

    Language should not become a major issue. If it does, then there is something wrong with the system.

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