English language ability remains high on the employability agenda for businesses in a range of global industries. Many jobs in healthcare, finance, technology and a range of other sectors require a good command of English, but how can students get the language skills they need?
Students embarking on careers where they have to use English in their day to day work can take a number of sensible steps. For a start they should look at how much English they actually need, then set themselves a sensible target to work towards. The Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a good place to start as it’s one of the most commonly used systems to describe different levels of language ability. At Cambridge, our experts have produced a short video which gives a really good overview of the CEFR. Students should also take a look at the ‘Can Do’ statements which were developed by a group of leading experts called the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE). Through these useful statements, ALTE illustrates what language users can typically do with a language at different levels and in different contexts. When setting a level to aim for, C1 of the CEFR is a good minimum level for a demanding professional environment. At C1 level, users can converse effortlessly in English and are easily understood by native speakers and learners from other countries. They can understand complex verbal discussion and read long documents, all of which are crucial skills for professionals who need to deal with people and information in their working environment.
If students identify that they need to improve their language ability, then they should set themselves a series of attainable goals. It’s important to remember that successful language learning is not just about knowing grammar and vocabulary, it’s about knowing how to communicate in real-life day to day situations. So any English language programmes or assessments used should provide realistic practical scenarios. Last year, experts from Cambridge led a research study which surveyed the language learning progress of over 50,000 school students around Europe. Among other things, one of the key findings of the study pointed towards the importance of integrating English into everyday lives. This can be easily achieved thanks to the accessibility of the media. Students can easily expose themselves to authentic English language materials through watching subtitled English language films on DVD, surfing English language pages on the internet and even listening pop music.
A good way for students to show employers what they can do in terms of English ability is to work towards an internationally recognised English language qualification. For example, at Cambridge we produce a whole suite of exams that are targeted at different CEFR levels such as Cambridge English: Preliminary, First, Advanced or IELTS.
It is equally important to recognise the role multilingualism plays in industry. Even though English is often the main language used in business, graduates from the UK and their employers will benefit if individuals are able to do business in other languages too. If students do have more than one language, it puts them in a very strong position as they can add to the skills employers can call upon. It is this level of diversity that is helping to build a truly multilingual workplace which makes it an exciting time to be embarking on a career.