Learning a second language will give you a competitive edge

By Anne Sexton - Last update


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Being able to speak a second language is like having a precious commodity. In recent years, the demand has surged for employees with foreign language skills.

Ireland could do better in the multilingualism stakes. The vast majority – over ninety percent – of people in Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden can speak at least one language as well as their mother tongue.

The rest of Europe is not doing too bad either. More than half of Europeans can converse in at least one other language. In addition, a quarter can speak two more languages. In Ireland, 60 percent of us speak just one language, generally English. A large number of us don’t speak Irish, let alone another European language.

Studying a second language, even at conversational level, adds to your skill set and versatility. However, if you want to attain a high standard of proficiency, most larger higher education institutions offer postgraduate qualifications in the major languages. These include French, Spanish, German and Italian.

Specialised language postgrad courses

If you already have some proficiency there are plenty of programmes. A number of universities offer MA studies in modern European languages. There are also specialised courses, such as the Higher Certificate in German literature from Maynooth University or the MA in Irish-German Studies from the University of Limerick.

UCC offers a Higher Diploma in Advanced Languages and Global Communication. This is for anyone hoping to return to the job market with modern language and intercultural communication skills along with competencies relating to managing global relationships, ICT, translation and localisation skills. The programme equips students with the language competence, as well as intercultural skills, to do business in Europe and beyond.

Naturally, students with a postgraduate qualification in a language should have a very high level of technical competence.

Multilingualism offers a competitive edge

Multilingualism can greatly improve a company’s export potential. Having the resources to communicate across international borders gives companies an invaluable competitive edge. As a result, jobseekers with a second language have an advantage over those without.

We live in an increasingly globalised world. Business and marketing experts with two or more languages are invaluable. Any business that works in markets beyond Ireland, the UK or the US, need staff with language skills. They can better connect and develop deeper relationships with clients who speak that language. What’s more, business people with a second language increase their own marketability too. They can work for, as well as with, a number of companies across the world.

Career paths for postgrads with language skills

There are a number of other potential career paths for anyone with two or more languages. The obvious one is teaching. Translation and localisation experts are always in demand. Language experts are need by the civil service and NGOs. Then there is editing and publishing; international media; advertising; plus tourism and hospitality to name a few.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, consider this: learning a second language can delay the onset of some kinds of dementia for up to six years!


Anne Sexton

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