Studying languages at university.

This is not a book post, I’m taking a break from that to get this rant off my chest. For context, just two weeks ago I completed a degree in French and Russian at the University of Nottingham, and I’m about to start working as a sales rep for a publishing house.
So, OCR are planning to stop examining French, Spanish and German. This comes on the heels of announcements from a number of universities, including my alma mater, Nottingham, that they will be making significant cuts to their languages departments. At Nottingham, that means redundancies for staff members who’ve been wonderful teachers and mentors to my peers and me for four years, which is deeply frustrating because as a languages student, the main thing that is important is high quality teaching. We don’t need high tech equipment or fancy facilities, we just need someone who knows their subject inside out to engage us in their teaching.
But the point of this post is not all of the outrageous bullshit that my old department is being subjected to, as angry as I am about that. The point is that none of it makes any sense.
We live in an increasingly globalised world, but the British seem to be burying their heads in the sand about that fact. We don’t need the EU! We don’t need to be able to communicate with people outside this tiny little island! The majority of British businesses need speakers of foreign languages, and yet every time I was asked what I wanted to do after I graduated, my options were presented as translation or teaching. Nope! A languages degree actually opens more doors to you than a lot of more “employable” degrees. I got my job in large part because I speak Russian, so no, I don’t think I should have done English if I wanted to pursue a career in publishing.
A couple of years ago, my mum read an article saying that the Foreign Office needed Russian linguists, that there was a serious lack of native speakers of English with knowledge of Russian, so I looked into how the application process would work. I’d be good at that kind of work, I know I would, but I can’t do it, because to get a job in the Foreign Office, you have to sit a maths test. Of course you have a lack of linguists, if you’re making them sit a maths test! I am bad at maths, and do you know why that is? Because for the last several years, I have been very focused on getting bloody good at French and Russian. Are you making applicants for the Treasury sit a Russian grammar test? I didn’t think so!
We shouldn’t be cutting MFL, we should be pushing more people towards them, reminding university applicants that they can combine a language with another subject, that studying a language at university is as much, if not more, about the study of culture as it is about grammar, that you get to live abroad as part of your degree, that you can pick up a language other than the ones offered at most schools, that it opens up a wider range of career options than you can imagine.
Languages make you more confident, hell, they made me fearless. If I can move to Russia barely able to string a sentence together and come back with friends who don’t speak English, I can do anything. Languages improve your social skills. Languages help you understand the world around you on a deeper level than any travel in a country where you are unable to communicate ever could.
I’m not saying that everyone should be doing languages, or that other degrees are less valuable. What I am saying is that deciding to study languages at university is hands down the best decision I have ever made, and it breaks my heart to see that exam boards, universities and the government don’t see the value in it.

3 thoughts on “Studying languages at university.

  1. I agree. More and more people around the world can speak two, three, four languages and us “anglaphones” sit back thinking: well, we speak English, that’s all we need right??
    Really, by having a lack of focus on other languages and cultures we are shooting ourselves in the foot and depriving ourselves of so many opportunities, not just in business but in every aspect of our lives. Many people saw me learning French as a waste of time or a fun hobby, but I’ve come to realize that speaking a second language has completely opened up my tiny world!


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