Language of the market

October 28, 2010

It is heartening to see growing recognition that language skills are increasingly important in the global marketplace ("Sorry, non comprendo, I'm British", 21 October). However, this should not be taken as a defence of existing language departments in traditional universities.

Employers are more interested in experience of life than literature. They want graduates with the social skills, cultural understanding and confidence needed to thrive in the international market. These additional skills, over and above the core skills and knowledge required for non-language specialist degrees, need to be fully integrated within degree programmes. I applaud the University of Surrey's initiative to offer language instruction to its students, but believe it is too little, too late to have the desired effect and is unlikely to motivate learners ("Surrey gives students a voice in global market", 21 October).

It is a pity that the private sector has been overlooked once again. At Regent's College, we have 20 years' experience of delivering degree programmes that require the attainment of fluency in at least one additional language beyond one's mother tongue and English. Students are required to study one or more of 10 languages and cultures extensively within 20 contact hours a week, and spend two semesters studying or working in the additional languages of their choice on study placements abroad. Language attainment counts towards degree awards.

The benefits of this approach can be seen in the employability of our students and their future career trajectories. However, it comes at a price. Covering a full degree syllabus with added languages and immersion study abroad takes at least seven semesters. This runs counter to the pressure on the state sector to reduce degree programmes and make economies. Nonetheless, it is an investment in time and money that students, frequently European and international in origin, are prepared to make for their futures.

One could wish that the value of funding real internationalism could be recognised by the government for the benefit of UK plc.

Aldwyn Cooper, Chief executive and principal, Regent's College.

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