When I tell people that I study French & German at university, I usually get one of three reactions:
- ‘Oh, so do you want to become a teacher/translator/interpreter?’ (The most common…and for those wondering, NO!!)
- ‘Oh….ok.’ Followed by a look of confusion across their face. (This reaction is usually reserved for my fellow Nigerians and African aunties and uncles who just can not comprehend one studying a degree that isn’t Medicine/Law/Engineering/Economics.)
- ‘Oh wow, that’s so cool. I did (insert language here) at GCSE but stopped there, and all I can remember is ‘je vais aller au cinema avec mes amies/ich liebe dich.’
As you can see it’s always somewhat entertaining when I’m asked this question and I have to deal with the array of questions and reactions that stem from my answer. It can be quite frustrating dealing with the same questions over and over again, and having people try out their little French and German on me, but I’m always up for opening people’s minds and making them see that there is so much more to what they may initially think comes with a language degree.
For starters, not everyone doing a language degree wants to become a teacher/translator/interpreter. To be honest, in my year at University, I only know of one girl who wants to become a teacher and one guy who wants to go into translation. As for the other ~60 students, their career ambitions range from marketing to journalism and HR, piloting to consultancy, and law to banking. This just goes to show that with a languages degree, you can go into a huge range of careers….you can go into pretty much anything, the world is quite literally your oyster. What a lot of people fail to realise is that a lot of employers would rather employ people with knowledge of other languages and train them up to the specifics of the job so not only do they have the ability to now fit the job description, but they can also communicate with international clients and partners which makes business a lot easier! My sister recently went to a lecture at University of Oxford, where lecturers there too also said that after architecture, teaching and medicine (degrees with obvious careers at the end of it), language graduates have a high employment rate.
Some people that study languages at University might not even have any desire to use their chosen languages within their career. I for one don’t necessarily want to pursue a career that has any direct relation to my degree (I’ve never ever wanted to be a teacher/translator/interpreter!!), but if there is the opportunity to take a role that would allow me to use my French and German skills, then I’m definitely up for it…but it’s not a must as I know there are many other ways I can maintain my language skills.
Being a black girl of Nigerian descent studying French & German definitely also causes some eyebrows to raise seeing as I’m not going down the ‘traditional African route’ of Medicine or Law. I’m very lucky that both my parents are very open minded when it comes to what my sisters and I choose to study, their main emphasis being that we choose to study something that we enjoy. And that’s exactly what I did. From day one, they’ve encouraged my passion for languages and have done their fair share of responding to relatives and friends perplexed reactions to my degree.‘French & German?? Why are you studying French & German? You might as well study Russian if you want to study a weird degree?’ An actual quote from my Uncle. Sigh. It can get quite annoying constantly having to defend your choice and passion, but I stand by it and just try to dish out the positives of studying languages and how beneficial it will be in developing my future career.
Recently, I had an encounter with a Nigerian student who asked me why I pursued a languages degree and not do a diploma in French and German instead of a ‘proper’ degree. Despite taking offence to her accusatory tone, I responded to her explaining my passion for languages, the good employability prospects and the benefits of being a polyglot. Usually this will shut the person up and stop them from asking further questions, but I never know if it’s because they’ve had a change of heart and start to really thing about it, that it really is an amazing choice of degree, or if they’re just still very baffled by me and have deemed me crazy.
But it’s not all negatives. Often for those that understand just how valuable a languages degree is, I receive a very warm and positive reaction and we go on to discuss what I hope to do in the future and my year abroad also generally becomes a topic of discussion too. So to all of you potential linguists out there, don’t be discouraged by what your friends and family might think because languages are only going to become more necessary in this global world of ours!!