30/03/2015 12:01 BST | Updated 29/05/2015 06:59 BST

Stop Telling Students Their Languages Degrees Are Useless


Please don't tell me how much my degree is worth.

If you're being awkward, it is actually worth somewhere between £28,350 and £36,000 (I'm too afraid to do an actual run of the numbers), which is statistically more than you have ever paid or will ever pay if you are a student from the UK. But really, what is a language degree worth? At the end of the day, I'm paying all this money for something more than a certificate and a photo opportunity on graduation day... right?

First things first, I'm a languages nerd. I like languages. I like knowing how to say hello in Chinese and thank you in Japanese and to try to wrap my head around French or Swedish or Korean grammar. But it's no secret that in general, the Brits don't speak other languages.

Between 1998 and 2013, the number of universities offering specialist language courses dropped by 40%. 'Traditional' European languages have almost entirely dropped out of the most popular GCSEs taken by British students, and have been replaced by 'non-traditional' languages, like Chinese and Polish, if they have been replaced at all. My own A-level French class began with twelve students, and dropped down to four; if there had just been four of us at the beginning of the process, our class wouldn't have been able to run at all.

It seems like the UK has collectively decided that it is no longer worth our time, and I can't help but feel as though it's this prevailing sense of 'But Everyone Speaks English' under another guise.

"But why not do a degree in French and Business?" was the favourite from people my parents' age, who have decided that everyone in the world can now communicate through gestures and Google Translate. "Business is useful. Business will help you get a job."

I can't do business. I have never wanted to do business. What is business, anyway? Is it numbers? I hate numbers. I like languages. Did I mention that?

"But everyone speaks French," was another favourite from my peers. Really? Really, though? Everyone speaks French? When was the last time you sat down on an evening with a mug of tea and enjoyed the latest Jean Dujardin flick, sans sous-titres? I think we all know.

So what is there left for us? These lonely language students, clutching their copies of Don Quixote and L'étranger, shivering in the breeze while a lonely trumpeter plays in the background, reading the newspaper ads in case someone needs a babysitter? What if you don't want to be a teacher?

It's not actually all doom and gloom.

Three-quarters of Italian degrees, two-thirds of German and half of French and Spanish studies degrees are taught at Russell Group universities, so if you're doing one of those languages, you're probably on a good start. Language degrees are also largely about communication and being able to present ideas effectively. So, go us. Try to do that with your stinkin' Maths degree.

Moreover, there has recently been a huge recruitment drive for Brits with two or more additional languages at global institutions like the UN and the EU, and a deeper understanding of another culture is an enormous asset in export and trade. With the number of students taking languages on the decline, us polyglots are becoming more and more like gold dust. Globalisation needs us, my friend. You need me. I am your future.

Also, our babies will be smarter and we are less likely to get Alzheimer's, which is a plus.

According to a study by the Higher Education Statistics Authority, Language students have a 90.4% employment rate, compared with 90% in Biological Sciences and 88.4% in Business Studies (take that, haters). So the bad news? We're actually just as screwed as everyone else in our generation. But at least we know that your Google Translate translation is wrong, and that gives us more satisfaction than anything on the planet.