Why study languages?
Why study languages?

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Why study languages?

1 Careers in languages

1.1 Careers advice

This section will help to make you aware of career opportunities within a variety employment sectors, and highlight the importance of learning languages for your career.

Activity 1 Quotation

Timing: You should allow 10 minutes

‘The best careers advice is: "Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.”’

Write down what you think this quotation is trying to say. Make some notes on how you think this might apply to languages and language learning.

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Most people would agree that being paid to do something you love is a good thing. However, you need to be thinking about whether this is good careers advice.

Those who think that this is good careers advice would argue that being paid to do something you love means that your life and work won't be an obligation, but a joy. It would be better to have a good life than just earn lots of money.

Others may disagree, believing that this is unrealistic. They may be of the opinion that we have to do things we don't like to be able to pay the bills. If you are always looking for someone to pay you for what you love, you'll end up unemployed too often.

Others would think the statement is too vague. They may agree about finding something you love to do, but may disagree that it is the best career advice because it doesn't give any clear direction as to how you would go about achieving it.

Activity 2 Variety of possibilities

Timing: You should allow 10 minutes

Learning languages opens up many more career options than being a language teacher. Opportunities exist in translation and interpretation, in addition to careers abroad. A knowledge of languages is beneficial in many other sectors.

Write down four careers that you think may involve the use of a foreign language.

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Some possibilities you may have thought of:

  • business services

  • contact centres

  • financial services

  • media

  • travel and tourism

  • central government

  • engineering

  • marketing

  • technology

  • voluntary and charitable sector.

Activity 3 Translation mishaps

Timing: You should allow 20 minutes

Have a look at the notices below and see if you can work out what each one is trying to say. As a native speaker, you may find them amusing because of the incorrect grammar.

‘It is forbitten to steal hotel towels please. If you are not person to do such thing is please not to read notis.’

‘Please to bathe inside the tub.’

‘To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically in national order.’

‘For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.’

‘It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man.’

‘Specialist in women and other diseases.’

‘Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.’

‘Ladies may have a fit upstairs.’

‘It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.’

‘Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.’

‘Stop: Drive Sideways’


In doing this activity, you will have seen that even though you may be laughed at, and even with bad grammar, you will generally be understood in context.

Activity 4 English nuances

Timing: You should allow 10 minutes

How would you explain the following phrases to someone who is not British, but does speak English?

  • ‘Taking the mick’

  • ‘Cheeky’


There are many different ways of explaining these phrases. You may have explained that ‘taking the mick’ means to tease or mock someone. You may have described ‘cheeky’ in terms of a person who is rude or disrespectful, or someone who is just being a bit playful.

Activity 5 Lost in translation

Timing: You should allow 10 minutes

There are many online translators and dictionaries available to help you to translate words and phrases from one language to another. However, many companies still need fluent speakers to help convey the intended meaning. This is particularly important in the context of cultural understanding behind phrases or idioms that may seem a bit odd.

Have a look at the poem extract below, which has been literally translated from the Persian language. Try to think of reasons why the translation may not work.

‘If that Turk from Shiraz

were to capture my heart

I would give away Samarkand and Bokhara

for her Hindu mole.’


These lines come from a much longer poem, written by a 14th century poet. In its original language, Persian, it comes across as very exotic, lyrical, musical and evocative. We may look at the lines from a Western perspective and try to understand it in terms of our own culture and experience. As we have seen in the previous activity, knowledge of a culture can help you to understand the hidden meanings of certain phrases. We may not have understood the significance of the image of the Turk, or the relevance of the place names. Again, in the Persian, a mole may be considered a thing of beauty, which may not be the case in Western cultures.

This is an alternative translation, which attempts to convey the sentiment and meaning of the poem a bit more accurately, using Western place names and terms.

‘It that American in Venice

Were to coo "I love you too …"

I would barter Babylon and Rome

for her Japanese tattoo.‘

Activity 6 Create career connections

Timing: You should allow 10 minutes

From what you have learnt so far in this course, try to write down three ways in which speaking more than one language could benefit your career.

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  • People are most comfortable communicating in their native tongue.

  • Even if you think ‘the whole world is learning English’, most would prefer to do business in their first language.

  • If you speak the same language, you have a connection on which to base your professional relationship.

  • You are more likely to understand your customers if you can communicate in both languages.

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