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Universities should promote the value of multilingualism for employability

Trilingual blogger and law student Noorin Malik says universities could do more to show students how and why multilingualism sets them up for success

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Noorin Malik

January 8 2016
Thank you in many languages


When you join university, your acceptance usually depends on whether you have or haven’t met your entry requirements . The admission-tutors will most probably not take into account the many other ways you are suited to or can positively contribute to your degree course. How can they? Unless you are applying for a masters or a PhD degree at the same university at which you completed your bachelors, they won’t know you. Similarly, they won’t be aware of your full potential. There is no way for any of your new lecturers and seminar leaders to guess what you are capable of. It’s up to you to develop yourself further using every opportunity and all the skills available to you. Thats no easy task, and even less so if you haven’t fully grasped how your own talent can enhance your educational career. Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

I am trilingual. I have been told many times before that speaking a variety of languages is beneficial. That this employability skill will outrival other candidates and that it will get me far in today’s interconnected global society. It’s a great gift to have because it will take me to advantageous heights. It’s not so great if I don’t know how to act on that awareness because I haven’t been shown how. What I am missing in my university experience are demonstrations of what multilingual success looks like and how I can prepare for it. Universities need to provide this demonstration to students who have not enrolled on a language degree or who are perhaps not on a joint honours degree.

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I want to see someone who has taken advantage of their multilingualism and achieved something different from those whose success lies within the boundaries of one language. That achievement can be presented by diverse guest speakers during extracurricular lectures. I have attended employability talks but found that most of them focus on guidance into a solicitor/barrister career path (I am a law student) . In my opinion, guest speakers from various linguistic backgrounds are brilliant individuals who can demonstrate the success that flows from being multilingual. Seeing their development and expertise in the context of today’s global interconnectedness will provide prospective students with a sense of what they can do to boost both their academic and work-related performance. To enhance the information package even further, guest speakers should range from recent graduates who have just found their way into the job market to more experienced individuals. This would provide students with specialised guidance in their transition from university to work. After all, multilingualism is an employability skill that will take anyone further in their chosen career, no matter what interest a student decides to pursue.

Another way is to encourage students who have completed a year abroad in a non-English-speaking country is to deliver a lecture of insight into their experiences. Lectures could be delivered in both languages at a reasonably balanced ratio to give students a feel for what is expected and how they can put their potential to use. These talks would sit within a different context since students would be provided with guidance not in what to do after graduation but in how they could boost their performance during their studies. Merely picking a discovery module in a language of their choice is not sufficient; that module won’t teach in the context of the main degree course.

A great way to support these lectures could be through workshops by the same guest speakers and students with study-abroad experience. The workshop need not involve a number of complicated activities, as they would not be targeted at students who had come to university to study languages. The session could begin with a short vocabulary booklet outlining the English and non-English equivalent terms. Yes, it sounds childish, but I feel that it would be a great reflection of what global interconnectedness looks like. That booklet could then be used to draft a short but focused cover letter. Marks would be given by the workshop leader in less than two minutes per letter. Again, it need not be anything complicated because a draft doesn’t require serious marking. It’s all about getting a feel for future work. Overall feedback could then be provided with more detailed and summarised insights into the kind of job that multilingual individuals do on a day-to-day basis.

Many universities emphasise a need to teach students how to become independent and find their own way into the world of work through their own efforts. That’s great. In fact, I have felt that challenge at my own university and, to be honest, I love it. On the other hand, I also feel that a little more guidance in areas that do not exactly match the curriculum, such as languages, or guidance for those who do not want to become lawyers (see my previous article), would be highly welcomed by all, not least because the University of Leeds is a popular destination for a great number of international students. That internationalism inevitably invites multilingualism and universities need to address it. Why then would universities pride themselves on being popular destinations for international students if not for their openness and accommodation of multilingualism?

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