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Brushing up on a language could boost your career and your business

Business | Published:

VISITORS to the Channel Islands often enjoy the sight of the historic French street and place names. Beyond navigating the country lanes, however, many islanders give little thought to their ability – or inability – to speak French or other languages.

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With an ever globally-focussed job market, however, the ability to speak more than one language can have real benefits.

A new study has found that being multilingual is on the rise, with more people adopting a second language in a bid to get ahead in their career.

Online language recruitment specialists Top Language Jobs found in a survey of British workers that over half of the population who speak more than one language say they use it regularly at work.

And over two-thirds of respondents said speaking another language has benefitted their career directly through either enhanced opportunities or better pay.

Uncertainty around the potential impacts of Brexit may have also increased demand for European language skills.

‘Brexit will have linguistic implications,’ said Jersey-based language instructor Andrew Picot. ‘We need solid linguists to steer us through in terms of foreign commerce, trade and international relations.’

Andrew Picot of Complete Languages Tuition and Services Jersey CLTSJ Picture: ROB CURRIE (26483585)

With the proximity of Jersey and Guernsey to mainland France, French is easily the most popular language and most likely to be sought by local employers but as centres of international business, there are calls for other languages as well.

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‘Specifically, in the last three months, we have had requests for a Russian speaker and demand for speakers of French and Spanish,’ said Chris Gnapp, of Guernsey’s Leap Frog Recruitment.

While language skills are increasingly in demand, they still pale in comparison to professional qualifications, particularly in trusts, such as STEP, he added.

Where professional qualifications are equal, however, the ability to speak to global clients and contacts in their native language could push a CV to the top of a recruitment pile.

‘It gives you options,’ Mr Gnapp said. ‘Guernsey companies have clients all over the world, there are lots of French clients and there is lots of activity in the Swiss market. I think the way business is going now, it is so much easier to do business globally.’

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Languages like Arabic, Mandarin and Russian are increasingly seen as desirable, while Spanish is surging in popularity globally.

Mr Picot said it recently overtook French as the most popular A-level language for the first time and by 2050, could be the most widely spoken language across the Americas.

Language skills are not equally spread around the workforce, however. While many reported having studied a language, most did not keep up their skills.

The age group most likely to speak more than one language, according to the Top Language Jobs survey, is 18-24 year olds, with 66 per cent reporting they speak more than one language against just a quarter of those aged 55-64.

But Mr Picot said, in terms of languages, it is never too late to learn: ‘I have clients into their 70s,’ he said, with many making steady progress as a result of the use of stimulating resources and dynamic techniques.

‘Bilingualism in the workplace is beneficial because it endears foreign clients when you make a real effort in their native tongue, especially when in their country. It can improve negotiation success.

‘It also increases employability with a second language on the CV. Prospects for international sabbaticals/secondments improve quite substantially. Knowing the language comes with increased cultural awareness and sensitivity/empathy and open-mindedness. Communication, analysis and problem-solving skills improve orally and sometimes in writing.’

Demand for language skills has grown rapidly in the last ten years and that trend shows little likelihood of abating.

The British government has a stated ambition to have 90 per cent of British pupils sitting a GCSE in a language by 2025 and has allocated funding to set up a national languages centre and nine school hubs to raise standards of language teaching in secondary schools.

But Anna Lisa Detassis, the director of Guernsey-based Accent language school, said she does not see that commitment to building language capabilities mirrored in the Channel Islands by the employers who need those skills.

‘We do offer tuition for all ages, levels and purposes,’ she said, including workplace-training and English training for foreign workers.

She would like to see more employers embracing language training and supporting their workers throughout it.

‘Unfortunately, we do not see an increase in the demand for foreign languages in the workplace by employers, even when it is obvious that the language skills are required,’ she said.

‘Employers don’t seem to be interested in (workers) improving their skills, most of our clients pay for themselves.

‘And when it comes to other foreign languages (not English) we don’t really see many employers paying for their staff, occasionally French courses but it seems more of a reward for their employers rather than a real need for them to speak the foreign language.’

If you are looking to improve your Spanish, French or another foreign language to give your CV added sparkle, in addition to formal language schools and tutors, there are also many opportunities for would-be linguists to study online.

Simply downloading an app, and dedicating 10-15 minutes to learning it every day, while commuting or cooking or relaxing, can be a start.

And as the world of commerce pulls ever closer together, investing in language skills could pay dividends in your long-term career prospects.

Gwyn Garfield-Bennett

By Gwyn Garfield-Bennett
Business Editor

Gwyn is a highly experienced journalist having worked in UK national TV for the BBC and ITN, as well as running her own magazine publishing business, freelancing for national newspapers and UK magazines. She has a CIPR Diploma in Public relations, excellent digital skills and is an experienced digital marketing practitioner. Gwyn is also an author of several books.

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