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Three Reasons to Learn a Language on your Gap Year

A volunteer with Year Out Group member Oyster Worldwide on a teaching project in Chile after his Spanish language course

Date added: Monday 16th April 2012


People taking a gap year whether they be they students, graduates or on a career break, should use the opportunity to learn a language to the best of their ability in the time available.  In the short term it will give them the best possible start to their gap year project.  In the medium term it will enable them to make the most of their gap year experience, which they can draw on during their time at university or in their first job.  But language skills also improve your employability which, in the long term, could be the greatest benefit of all.


Learning a language is fun especially when doing it for a purpose.  Starting a gap year project overseas with some concentrated language training gives you time to familiarise yourself with the country, make friends with your fellow students and start to make contact with the local people.  As your language skills grow and you head off into town to practice so your confidence will grow and the experience will become increasingly worthwhile and enjoyable.


When you arrive at your project and begin to work closely with the local team, many of whom may not speak English (or want to), you will be able to communicate with them from the outset.  They will be delighted that you have made the effort to learn their language and your acceptance by them will be smoother and quicker.  Now is the time to build on those language skills.  Use every opportunity to practice and increase your command of the language.  As you immerse yourself in the community your language will improve in leaps and bounds especially if you stay with a local family.  Yu will also make many local friends some of whom may turn out to be friends for life.


Your language skills will enable you to engage with the local people at a deeper level so helping you to gain a better understanding of their customs and culture.  You will also be able to enjoy local radio and TV stations that will give you an insight into the issues of the day.  Discuss these with your host family and work colleagues will help you gain yet more knowledge and understanding of your host country.  It follows that the longer you remain on the project the greater will be your command of the language and all that goes with it.  You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have made the most of your time overseas.  You will return home with valuable new skills and experiences and a real boost to your self-confidence.


In the medium term your language skill may not have a direct impact on your university course, unless you are reading languages.  But the experience gained of different cultures and customs will provide you with a valuable new perspective of the world as a whole.  When couple with your increased self-confidence and maturity you will be able to offer a fresh and knowledgeable perspective on many issues that will be a real asset in tutorials and many other aspects of university life or in your first job.


In the longer term the greatest benefit from having language skills is increased employability.  There is a severe shortage of people with language skills in the UK.  In these difficult economic times the UK needs to export more and the lack of language skills in the business community is hindering our ability to export.  According to a recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) very few business owners have language skills that are good enough to conduct deals in international markets.  96% of respondents to the BCC's survey had no foreign language ability for the markets they served.  The largest deficits are for the fastest growing markets like Russia and China.  Less than 1% of business owners surveyed said they could speak Russian or Chinese well enough to conduct business in their buyer's language.


The same survey showed that staff members with experience of living overseas and a willingness to work overseas were much sort after.  Such experience would help a business to increase its exports and expand.  Meanwhile the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office is seeking to restore the historically excellent language skills of our diplomats overseas not least so that they can help British businesses attack local markets.


The benefits of using your gap year to learn a language will give you greater insight into that countries customs and cultures and to establish long-standing contacts and friendships.  Your overseas experience will prove valuable during your time at university and thereafter while you language skills will greatly enhance your employability.  Above all being able to speak at least one other language can bring unexpected joys often when you least expect it for the rest of your life.


British Chambers of Commerce Survey:  Boost exports further by improving businesses' language skills and international connections.


Daily Telegraph article (11 Apr 12): Language skills being lost in translation by Charles Crawford former British Ambassador.


Gap year planning advice


Gap Year Language specialist:  CESA Languages Abroad is a founder member of Year Out Group and a language training specialist.




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