Why are foreign languages such an important asset when recruiting?
I’m Anna, a French and Spanish graduate and I’ve recently joined the Internal Communications recruitment and executive search team at VMAGROUP. Your first question might be ‘so, do you use your languages in your job?’. The quick and easy answer is ‘no, not yet’ because I work predominantly with UK-based clients and candidates - but I often come across great individuals with a range of language skills and this always stands out to me.
Being able to work in such a supportive environment at VMAGROUP is allowing me to shape and grow my own career and do things that are so important to me – like writing this post, about why I think foreign language skills are all-too-often overlooked in the UK job market. As a languages graduate, questions like ‘so, will you be a teacher or a translator?’ sound all too familiar… and much to my delight and the frustration of some, I can now turn round and say ‘neither’!
‘Everyone speaks English!’ – we’ve all heard it before, right? Yes, it’s true that around 1.5 billion people speak English either natively or as a second language (according to a 2022 Statistica report). And, whilst maths was never my strong point… I believe that still leaves 6.3 billion people. 6.3 billion brains, minds, cultures, backgrounds where communication is potentially problematic without our trusty (yet somewhat rusty) friend, Google Translate. By not expanding our linguistic horizons, we are quite frankly constructing our own fences in the world of business.
The reality is that the UK often fails in understanding the true value of linguists – and with my final year dissertation research focusing around modern foreign languages education in the UK compared to France, I’m aware the statistics for tomorrow’s workforce are bleak and already many UK universities are having to consider closing their languages departments.
According to a survey from the language learning app Preply, only 1/3 of UK adults are able to speak more than one language. And yes, of course English remains the ‘lingua franca’ of the business world, and of course it’s all a bit easier if we ‘just speak in English’ BUT it frankly isn’t true that ‘everyone speaks English’ and speaking from my experiences, I know that the relationships built when you can switch languages are stronger and more meaningful. A language is more than a transactional way of communicating. A language is just the face behind a whole new population of people with their own culture, their own values, their own history and politics.
So why should organisations value multilingual candidates more? We live in an incredibly well-connected world, so the more languages you have in your business the greater opportunities you will find. Additionally, having studied foreign languages, I cannot stress enough the importance of the skills you learn in the process. Learning a language is far more than just grammar and words. It requires serious dedication, excellent interpersonal skills and an ability to understand a whole new culture on a different level. A multi-linguist might not necessarily use their language skills in the workplace, but they will undoubtedly add a new dimension to your workforce – improving diversity and creating opportunity.
Perhaps a little cliché but a favourite quote of mine truly sums it up: “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart”. In a world where we can ‘ping’ emails every two seconds and we can use computers to translate languages, let’s not forget the meaning behind genuine human connection and the importance of communication in all languages.
VMAGROUP is a leading international interim, contract, temporary and permanent recruitment and executive search specialist. We are specifically focused on providing support to the communications, digital and marketing communities.
Our specialist practice areas cover: communications, corporate communications, internal communications, change communications, PR, media relations, financial communications, CSR, public affairs, investor relations, marketing, digital marketing and agency services.
We have a reputation for providing expert consultancy services and advice, supported by in-depth knowledge of the professions we recruit for. Our thought leadership and benchmarking studies have become go-to resources for the communications and marketing industry, supporting planning and decision-making for organisations of all shapes and sizes. In the UK, VMAGROUP has offices in London and Manchester and in Europe, VMAGROUP has offices in Amsterdam and Brussels, but we work with organisations and individuals on a global basis.
VMAGROUP is committed to equal opportunities and is a Diversity Pledged Recruiter.