Using Language Skills to Recruit International Students

Language books


Man with a megaphoneMonoglots are at a decided disadvantage in the job market. At a time when the pace of globalisation is increasing, being able to converse in more than one language is becoming more than just a desired trait. With job competition on the rise, not least in markets that are still struggling through the aftermath of the last economic crash, graduates need as many skills as possible to be successful.

Especially when we consider the level of conversational ability those graduates are facing.

Over a quarter of the global population was deemed multi-lingual in 2015. In Europe, around 50% of people can speak more than one language, with at least 38% able to speak English. In fact, the countries with the most multi-lingual people in the world are found in Europe and Asia. And in some nations, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, over 90% of the population are bilingual at the very least.

Look at countries where English is the predominant first language, and those numbers drop dramatically. In the UK, only around 38% of adults say they are proficient in more than one language (i.e. able to hold a conversation), and only 18% of adults in the US report fluency in another tongue.

However, now that so much importance is being placed on languages, surely universities can use this to their advantage when looking at recruiting international students?

Graduates at a job interviewThe importance placed on languages is constantly growing. For universities looking at recruiting international students, focusing on the added value they will receive if they become proficient in the primary language spoken in their location is an excellent way to attract attention.

It’s impossible to overestimate that added value because speaking more than one language makes job candidates a lot more desirable.

In a poll of 500 employers in the UK, language ability was found to be the second-most desirable trait among applicants. And fluency isn’t always necessary: A few years ago, 74% of employers in the UK were happy with ‘conversational ability’, according to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry). So, even a single semester spent studying a foreign language abroad could have a marked effect on graduates’ performance in the job market.

In the US, around 25,000 roles available to translators and interpreters by 2020 are expected by the Department of Labor, excluding the military. According to Ryan McMunn, CEO of BRIC Language Systems, fluency in a second language can equate to a 10 to 15% pay rise.

Students are looking for edges like these to make them competitive; to make the most of this, university marketing teams should promote the communication skills international students can learn while studying at their institution.

This appeal is amplified when you consider that people aren’t studying languages.

Language on a keyboardIncreasingly, people from English-speaking countries aren’t taking language degrees. A report from the Modern Language Association in 2015 found that enrolment in foreign language courses, especially European languages, decreased by 7% between 2009 and 2013 in the US. In Australia, meanwhile, there has been a marked decrease in the number of students studying Asian languages, while in the UK, applications for modern languages degrees continues to fall year-on-year.

Why might this be the case when ability in a foreign language so clearly helps in job recruitment? The reason may be that language degrees themselves aren’t making students desirable enough to employers and that students still need specific skills and specialised knowledge to be able to get ahead.

Languages hand puppet illustrationThis trend is perfect for universities looking at recruiting international students. By studying a degree in a country with a different language, students can successfully develop the language skills needed to get ahead, while also focusing on the specific area of study they are interested in.

University marketing teams, for their part, can focus on the major benefits of the specific subject areas – academic strength, facilities and international recognition, while promoting the benefits of language study in parallel to this.

Interested in how domestic culture can influence international students looking at studying abroad? Find out how.

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