In our latest Career Insights blog, YAIA's Careers Director, Kate Kalinova, explores online and offline options for identifying and improving your foreign language skills to advance your career.
If you’re aspiring to pursue a career in international affairs, having a foreign language or two within your skills arsenal can give you a valuable advantage for securing jobs and navigating inter-cultural barriers. While Asian languages have been gaining increasing attention in recent years, and are undoubtedly a valuable resource for strengthening Australia’s engagement with the region, it’s important to carefully consider how best to leverage your language skill to advance your career.
Identifying which languages to learn
If you plan to work in Asia, be it in the academic, government or corporate sector, investing in language study is definitely worth your while. Taking a look at Australia’s top trading partners can act as a useful departure point – particularly if you haven’t decided whether to focus on the corporate or public sector in your career. On the other hand, if you have a passion for international organisations such as the United Nations or the World Bank, studying one or more of the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) of these institutions may be more beneficial for your career goals.
Australia’s top two-way trading partners (Source: ABC News)
From a practical perspective, if you take a look at the overall trends in secondary language education in Australia, you can identify popular languages and choose one of them to pursue, as they tend to be easily accessible and have more scholarship options than their marginalised counterparts. On the other hand, if you choose a less popular language, such as Korean or Thai, you can more easily differentiate yourself from your peers and become a sought-after specialist by utilising your unique language advantage.
Finally, if you come from an immigrant family, learning your family’s language can be a great channel for deepening your connection with family members and enjoying easily accessible immersive environment for language practice. YAIA’s Partnerships and External Affairs Director, Philip Citowicki, noted that as a native Polish speaker, he managed to maintain working proficiency by attending after-hours school in Canberra.
“A second language can be a major asset when launching your career, even when not regularly utilising it in typical BAU activities. For me, my Polish skills set has helped open doors, build relationships, and added a level of skills diversity that cannot be easily replicated on other people’s resumes. When working at the Australian High Commission in the United Kingdom, my language skills helped me build rapport with contacts at events and meetings from International Maritime Organisation to social gatherings at other diplomatic missions”, Philip said.
Exploring diverse study platform
While taking language classes as part of your university degree may seem the most obvious starting point, it’s important to keep in mind a wide array of other platforms at your disposal. If you are interested in taking classes outside of university, language institutes such as the Cervantes Institutes or the Goethe Institutes are good starting points. Additionally, some countries offer free language studies abroad as part of their cultural diplomacy, so you can find free language class options at organisations such as the Confucius Institute and the Korean Cultural Centre in Australia.
Of course, given the current new normal that embraces all thing digital, it’s important to keep in mind the availability of online language courses. You can enrol in a paid online course, or audit Coursera languages courses for free if you don’t mind not receiving a course completion certificate. Additionally, there is a wide selection of language apps to choose from, and Skype language lessons are increasing in popularity. Lastly, don’t forget to invest time into searching for free online language resources of your target language – reaching out to your language professors at university, asking your peers or checking online blog platforms such as Asia Options, can give you great insight into free language-learning materials at your disposal.
Language practice outside the classroom
Although the COVID-19 outbreak has made studying and travelling abroad difficult, there are still plenty of opportunities to improve your foreign language skills here in Australia. Joining Language Exchange programs at your university or city are a great starting point, especially as you can leverage Australia’s unique multicultural makeup by interacting with different immigrant communities. Visiting restaurants and trying to order in their language can be an easy and fun starting point to put theory into practice, and you can even consider getting a part-time job to really immerse yourself in the language environment. This is particularly useful for countries whose cuisine is widespread in Australia.
YAIA's Careers Officer, Lauren Twine noted that “It can be difficult at times to practise foreign languages in Australia, especially European languages. It can all feel a little artificial studying a language spoken on the other side of the world”. However, geographical distance can be overcome by trying out fun and interactive activities with fellow language students.
For instance, Lauren suggested that one effective (and COVID-19 friendly) way to practice French was to borrow the French versions of Monopoly and Scrabble from the local library. “A group of us would play these board games together and speak purely in French to each other over a couple of hours. We’d look up words in the dictionary as we needed and repeated a number of key phrases in French throughout the games, like “à ton tour!” (it is your turn!). It was a really effective way to make everyone feel comfortable and gain confidence.”
Looking for more tips or want to suggest a topic for our next Career Insights piece? Reach out to YAIA’s Careers team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or ideas.