Just over three years ago I graduated from The University of Manchester with a BA (Hons) German and Spanish degree. I am now over £70k in student loan debt and I do not work as a translator, nor am I a language teacher – the two careers people automatically assume you will pursue when they hear you study languages. So, was it a complete waste of time?
I started learning Spanish in secondary school, I chose to do it for GCSE, simply because my best friend was in the class. I didn’t really think much of it until it turned out I was pretty good and started picking it up faster than any other subject! We both motivated each other to study and Spanish became our ‘secret language’, for 16 year olds we were pretty damn fluent and not many people understood the language! With the constant practice of bitching about other people in fluent, but broken, Spanish, we both got an A* in our GCSE exams. On top of that, I also decided to teach myself German and take the foundation GCSE exam and I received a C grade. We both decided to carry on studying languages in college and at university.
First year vs. final year ambitions
My ambitions have changed throughout university years. At first, I wanted to be a translator and my dream was to translate books, subtitles and films. By the end of my degree, I wanted nothing to do with translation! Do you know how difficult it is?! I’ve done enough translation tasks and they were rarely enjoyable. What do you mean I have to translate the feelings and rhythm across and not just words?!
As years went by, I realised studying languages is so much more than ‘studying languages’ and I fell in love with different aspects of it. In second year, we’d get more flexibility and we could choose to study modules that actually interested us. I’d become fascinated by the culture, history and most of all, international cinema. Even when I went on my year abroad most of the subjects I chose to study were cinema related. In Uruguay, I studied literature and learned about the history of world cinema. In Germany, I studied my favourite Spanish director’s films, as well as the history of National Socialism. Safe to say, language classes were not my favourite anymore.
I ended up writing my final year dissertation about the portrayal of sexual violence towards women in Spanish cinema. I wrote about a subject that has nothing to do with the language, but one I was passionate about and could write a whole book about. (It’s also what woke up the feminist in me, but that’s another story!)
Languages and my career
I didn’t end up working as a translator or a teacher, but I would never call university a waste of time. I think language degrees are beautiful and can open many doors for you in the future as they have the ability to 1. open your eyes to the whole wide world out there and 2. equip you with various transferable skills.
After university, after the initial panic of ‘who the hell am I going to be if I don’t want to be a translator!?’, I somehow decided I wanted to become a Project Manager (I freaking loved every second of planning and writing my dissertation). I now work on international projects where I sometimes get to tell people off in foreign languages – isn’t that great? But mostly, I just love communicating with people from different countries, even if I don’t speak their language, yet. There’s just something about it that gets me excited and I can’t imagine not having an international job.
6 Unexpected Perks of Having a Language Degree
1. You speak more languages than you think
Once you’ve learned a second language, it becomes easier to pick up other languages. Look at this impressive chart done by Visual Capitalist about the 100 most spoken languages in the world and how they all connect! The 100 Most Spoken Languages Worldwide. As a Polish-English-Spanish-German speaker, I could go on about how many languages I can fully or partially understand or read. It’s an incredible feeling and you can count on being asked questions such as ‘Hey, do you know what language they are speaking?’. The biggest fun is eavesdropping on others’ conversations and pretending to be a spy, although you do hear some dodgy things sometimes…
2. International work
They say that if you speak other languages you will be more attractive to prospective employers. Having my CV rejected many times unfortunately I can’t confirm that is true but I do know that you are definitely more likely to get yourself a job where you can travel internationally or work with international clients/partners where you can test your language on a daily basis. You can also look for jobs abroad – you are not tied to one country anymore. The world is yours!
3. SO many Netflix TV shows
Being able to understand other languages will open up a whole new world for you on Netflix – and I’m not just talking about Dora the Explorer. From Latin American telenovelas to dark Icelandic dramas – Netflix is your language oyster. It’s also a great resource if you want to simply practice your listening and understanding of the language. And why not spice things up and watch a French film with Spanish audio and German subtitles! Does anyone else think this sounds like fun? Does anyone else out there do this? Hello…?!
4. You can travel the world
Speaking the language of the country you’re travelling to can bring you the most incredible experiences. Step away from the beach and go talk to the locals! You can see what their life is really like and not from what you’ve read online or heard rumours about. Is a siesta really a thing or not?! Would you like to go to the best restaurants and bars that the locals go to? Not a problem because you speak the local language and can google reviews written by locals!
Also, think about how many countries you can comfortably visit with your second language. You can visit over 20 countries with Spanish and almost 30 countries where you can communicate in French. Not to mention Italian or Portuguese which you might pick up along the way and carry on your journey to a few more countries. As I always say – pick the right language to learn and you can conquer the world.
5. Authentic food
Have you always wanted to make authentic tamales just like abuela used to make? Perhaps you went on holiday once and tried a local speciality which you really want to cook for your family and friends but you’re struggling to find the recipe for it? You are more likely to find it when searching the internet in a different language. Dive into local Google to find the greatest hard to find recipes and impress others! The only thing you might struggle with is finding the local ingredients and sadly, you might get some weird looks in Tesco searching for avocado leaves for your recipe.
6. Secret conversations!
Have you got friends that speak the same foreign language as you? Great news! You can say whatever obscure things you want without almost anyone understanding around you. Almost – you never know who might be listening. Speaking from experience, be careful not to get yourself into awkward situations! It is a great way to practice your language though whilst having fun with your friends. Why not make up some really weird, hard to forget sentences to practice your vocabulary? I won’t even let my mind go there (weirdo over here!), but I’ll let you get carried away and get creative.
These are only 6 benefits to knowing another language, but there are of course many more which I could talk about all day, but I hope you get to find out for yourselves one day. I hope this post motivates at least some of you to try and learn another language, not necessarily at university – free lessons with Duolingo will give you a great head start before committing to paid lessons.
Personally, I love the degree I chose and wouldn’t have done it any other way. I think it’s a real shame how little students choose to study a foreign language at university because they can be really fun and rewarding. Oh, and no one will be able to tell you off for going on yet another holiday because “I really need to go to practice the language…” becomes the perfect excuse! (It doesn’t matter if you only managed to practice your food and drink vocabulary)
According to HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency), in 2018/2019 only around 4% of students chose to study Languages at university.
Can’t decide what language to study? I recommend one that will open up doors for you, one spoken in more than one country, and one which will enable you to link to and understand other languages.