If the European Commission’s 2012 ‘Languages for Jobs’ report is anything to go by, being able to speak a foreign language is similar to being in possession of a precious commodity. ‘The demand for foreign languages and communication skills’, the report reads, ‘is steadily rising on the European labour market’. This is because multilingualism can greatly improve a company’s export potential. Having the resources to communicate across international borders gives companies an invaluable competitive edge, a fact that indirectly confers postgraduate language students with a similar advantage.
Ireland’s poor record for multilingualism (the fifth-worst in Europe, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey) is something that employers here are understandably keen to amend. One certain way of taking advantage of their attempts to do so is by enrolling in a postgraduate language course. Augmenting a primary degree with further study not only adds to a student’s skill set and versatility, it also affords them a rarefied level of foreign language expertise.
For those wishing to attain a high standard of proficiency in another tongue, the options are many. Most of the main higher education institutions offer postgraduate qualifications in the major languages (French, Spanish, German and Italian). It should be noted that not all options are reserved for confirmed bilinguists and polyglots; for instance, UCC offers one-year Higher Diplomas in French, German, Italian and Spanish for those with no language qualifications – in other words, conversion courses for the monolingual. However, for those looking to develop their existing language credentials, there are plenty of research programmes (e.g. Teaching German as a Foreign Language in NUI Maynooth) and specialised taught programmes (e.g. Hispanic Studies at UCC or Early Irish at Trinity College Dublin) to choose from.
Naturally enough, the technical competence expected of students with a postgraduate qualification in language is very high. To ensure that this expectation is met courses often combine practical areas of study with theoretical ones. The MA in Applied Linguistics at UCC provides tuition in language teaching and learning, covering practical elements such as grammar, syntax and phonetics, while also offering modules in areas such as Language and Gender and Historical Linguistics. Another course that emphasises linguistic and technical training is NUI Galway’s MA in Advanced Language Skills. Many students of this course have in the past gone on to find work in translation services, both at home and abroad.
Of course learning a language is not purely a matter of absorbing grammar and vocabulary by rote. Cultural awareness is also vital, and a holistic, intercultural approach is required if students are to achieve a richer, more intuitive appreciation of the language, or languages, they are learning. Studying foreign language literature accommodates this as literary works may not only reflect a country’s cultural climate, but can often play a role in generating that culture too. University College Dublin’s new MA in Modern Languages encourages students to engage with literature and culture as a means of negotiating cultural difference and identity, thereby improving their communicative, discursive and analytical skills. Students are trained to a high level in at least two languages, though they may specialise in one language area (e.g. German or Italian Studies) if they so wish.
One of the most obvious career prospects for a language graduate is that of a language teacher. This can be a highly competitive area, however, and so it is important to maximise your chances of success by possessing the requisite qualifications. UL’s Graduate Diploma in Education (Languages) is a one-year course designed to satisfy the needs of those hoping to become post-primary school educators teaching Irish, French, English (as a second language), Japanese, or Spanish. Course applicants will be selected based on their academic background and on an interview given in the applicant’s proposed language of study.
Another popular – as well as competitive – area of employment for language graduates is in translation, an area which Trinity College Dublin’s MA in Literary Translation approaches as an art. The target language for this programme is English but it is possible to source languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Polish. Translation Studies is also provided by DCU and UCC (French only). Translation qualifications are highly valued in a number of sectors, including commerce, publishing, broadcasting, and IT where they are often required for technical writing, software localisation, and so on.
The challenges brought about by interpreting – that is, translating orally and instantaneously – are somewhat different and require a unique skill set. Ethical awareness is a must for interpreters as they are frequently faced with sensitive situations, such as those often seen in medical or legal environments. DCU’s Community Interpreting is a part-time 12-week Special Purpose Certificate that equips students with the techniques necessary to interpret French, Spanish, Russian, Romanian or Chinese effectively in places such as hospitals, Garda stations, district courts, asylum seeker interviews, social welfare offices and so on.
Given that the Irish Council of General Practitioners have raised concerns in the past about the lack of trained interpreters in Ireland, this looks to be an area with good employment prospects. Consider your postgraduate options by searching for language courses on Postgrad.ie
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