I am alarmed to see that more than ever, British linguists who also completed a degree in MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) are not even being given a second thought when it comes to the employment of new staff members for jobs requiring foreign language skills. This includes all foreign languages but is more commonplace amongst languages such as French and Spanish. Numerous companies are choosing to employ solely native speakers forcing many British linguists to give up their languages altogether meaning a skills loss for the UK.
Ever since graduating with a BA Hons French, Spanish and Italian degree almost four years ago I have been extremely fortunate as choosing to study three languages has definitely given me a significant advantage over graduates with one or two languages and has provided me with four years of consistent employment. However, I also had to conquer the barriers of ‘prejudice’ for being ‘British’ by some companies and attended numerous interviews before finding employment with a company prepared to give a non-native speaker a chance. I have been fortunate, others have not been so fortunate. Seeing British linguists being turned down again and again for what boils down to being ‘British’ has infuriated me. I felt that I had no other choice than to write this article.
If British linguists are fortunate enough to be considered at all, they find themselves right at the bottom of the pile. I don’t want to give the impression that all companies employ solely native speakers but it is clear to see that the ones who do give British linguists a chance are few and far between. I am extremely concerned about the negative consequences which have already arisen and will continue to arise as a result of companies recruiting solely native speakers.
I am aware that sometimes companies do have to employ native speakers due to a shortage of British linguists but it seems that the British linguists who do apply are being ruled out anyway. I want to highlight the negative impacts of employing solely native speakers is having on the UK and its linguists.
The confidence of many British linguists is completely knocked after being rejected time and time again as many companies are recruiting solely native speakers. The competition from native speakers is bigger than ever as the number of EU citizens who have migrated to the UK in recent years has rocketed due to lack of employment opportunities in their own countries pushing British linguists even further down the pile.
I have experienced several situations where a company has opted for a native speaker despite being told that they were impressed with my language skills and there was no mention of ‘NATIVE SPEAKER’ in the job description. However, many British linguists have wasted a lot more time and money than me as a result of being turned down endless times. What’s more, if a job opportunity arises within a company which tends to take on native speakers it is likely that a current staff member will recommend a friend who is also a native speaker meaning that there is an even smaller chance of a British linguist being employed. This creates resentment and disillusionment, resulting in some never wanting to use their languages ever again. This represents a loss of talent to the UK, talent that the UK cannot afford to lose. There is allegedly a huge shortage of British born linguists and yet we are not using the linguists we already have.
I do believe that some job roles do require native speakers or British linguists or linguists of other nationalities who have also lived in a specific country for several years such as for specific medical or engineering roles. There are still companies specifically demanding ‘native speaker only’ which is sometimes written in bold and capitals deterring anyone who is not a native speaker. This has a negative sometimes borderline racist connotation as it means ruling out everybody who isn’t of a certain nationality.
It shocks me as I know that the UK is a country which strives to offer equal opportunities regardless of age, sex, race, sexual orientation and disability but this completely goes against it. Some companies don’t appear to have the ability to think out of the box as it doesn’t occur to them that that non-native speakers may be able to speak languages fluently too. I am equally aware that there are companies abroad which will take on solely native English speakers which also needs to be addressed (see below).
I believe that there are many jobs where companies are recruiting ‘NATIVE SPEAKERS ONLY’ when a British MFL graduate will be just as capable of fulfilling that role. The comical thing about it all is that you will find that some recruiters within companies who want ‘NATIVE SPEAKERS ONLY’ don’t actually speak a foreign language themselves. This in itself displays a narrow-minded approach allowing them to believe that a non-native speaker is totally incapable. They believe to be playing it safe but are totally oblivious how this can have a soul-destroying impact on the few British linguists we do have. One must also realise that people of other nationalities who aren’t native speakers are being ruled out too. For example, I have many friends of other nationalities who have a very high level of other foreign languages who find themselves also at the bottom of the pile when it comes to employment due to not being a native speaker. However, I do find that even non-native speakers who aren't of British descent have more chance due to the negative assumptions of the British and language learning which will be mentioned later on.
It goes without saying that hiring solely native speakers is sending out negative messages to potential British linguists. Foreign languages are not compulsory at GCSE which means that if students don’t choose a language at GCSE, they are unlikely to continue onto A-level, yet alone degree level. Fewer students are taking languages at GCSE, so it is now more important than ever to encourage young people to take up a language especially as the UK faces an alarming language shortage. Several universities have closed or are thinking about closing their foreign language departments due to few students wanting to study languages.
A Spanish work colleague of mine (when I was employed by Disneyland Paris) said to my sister and I. ‘I am so glad to have met British people who speak languages. Before I met you, I hated British people as I thought that they thought that the UK was better than all of the other countries in Europe and thought that everybody should speak English. You have now changed my opinion of British people completely’. I was very upset that she felt this way. I then asked myself how many others think this. If companies employ solely native speakers, when customers from abroad get in touch, won’t they wonder why there are no British people working there? It creates a very bad impression by portraying the UK as a monolingual country with few taking interest in different languages and cultures which is very far from the truth.
EU nurse applicants drop by 96% since Brexit vote
It is clear that since the Brexit vote many EU citizens have left the UK and fewer are choosing to work in the UK. The NHS has been hit hard and so have many other sectors resulting in staff shortages. An article from the BBC written on 12/06/2017 states that "Last July, 1,304 nurses from the EU joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council register, compared to 46 in April this year, a fall of 96%."
If other sectors see a dramatic decline of EU applicants similar to this one, the companies who employed solely native speakers and completely disregarded British linguists will have very few or either no foreign language speakers at all having unbearable consequences on business generated from overseas resulting in a devastating blow to the UK economy. Companies who are still ruling out British linguists despite the uncertainty of the UKs future are playing with fire. If this is replicated in industries requiring languages, will these companies still exist?
After highlighting my four main concerns of disregarding British linguists I wanted to mention how some companies automatically assume that your language skills are terrible just because you are ‘British’. The UK may not have the best reputation for language learning but that doesn’t mean that we all have poor or zero foreign language skills. For this reason British linguists are being disregarded completely. I have come across many examples which have led me to believe that this negative and narrow minded assumption is true.
To conclude, I can’t stress enough the importance of more companies eliminating this narrow minded approach towards British linguists before more damage is done. To rule out British linguists altogether at a time where we face an alarming shortage of language skills and an uncertain future following the Brexit is absolutely ludicrous. Disregarding the few British linguists we have portrays a complete lack of respect especially as some companies seem to be unaware that it can lead to a linguist giving up their languages for good resulting in a loss of UK talent.
I constantly see campaigns (British Council) encouraging British people to learn a language, but why would anybody in the right mind take up a language when many companies employ solely native speakers? Companies must ask themselves whether a ‘NATIVE SPEAKER’ is always 100% necessary. These job roles should be available to non-native speakers too which will bring about more job opportunities for British linguists. Once more British people realise that speaking languages can open many doors more will be encouraged to study languages closing the language shortage gap we now face.
We do not want to be seen as a monolingual nation in a globalised world. Companies have a major role to play in helping to change this negative attitude towards the UK and language learning by employing more British linguists. It will also demonstrate that we are an open minded country by showing interest in other cultures than our own.
I can't stress enough the importance of British linguists continuing to apply for language jobs as studying languages at university was far from an easy option, especially if two or three were studied. It would be a real shame not to use them considering the amount of effort put in studying not just the language itself but the culture, history, film, politics, literature, translation, practising with native speakers, spending time studying abroad and endless additional hours studying grammar. British linguists must know that there are companies out there who do give non-native speakers a chance but they must never give up and must be able to overcome rejection.
The objective of this article was to change the way companies think by encouraging them to think out of the box by making them realise that native speakers are not the only option when it comes to hiring foreign language speakers. This in turn will eliminate their narrow minded approach when it comes to employing British linguists, encourage more people to take up languages, prevent the linguists we do have from giving up languages altogether and will allow companies to prepare themselves as Brexit unfolds.
Now is the time for more companies to start believing in British linguists.