Byline: Linda Whitney
LANGUAGE skills are critical in a global market place yet only one in 10 of the UK workforce speaks a foreign one.
With more than 300 languages spoken in London and 72 per cent of UK international trade with non-English speaking countries, it means that linguists are in great demand.
However, most employers are not looking for fluency, according to the Confederation of British Industry, which found that 74 per cent of employers were looking for conversational ability -- it helps to break the ice, cement relationships and bridge cultures.
"In an increasingly competitive job market, it is clear that foreign language proficiency adds significant value to a candidate's portfolio of skills and can give them a real competitive edge when applying for jobs," said the CBI's Education and Skills Survey 2009.
"There is an increase in demand for people with extra languages, especially combined with business skills," says Rocco Sec of London-based recruiter Languages Matter.
There is strong demand in business for German, the Scandinavian languages and Dutch, although French (required by 52 per cent of employers looking for language skills, according to the CBI), Russian (21 per cent) and Arabic are also sought after.
Most demand in the private sector is for European languages but public sector employers such as local authorities look for speakers of minority languages such as Urdu, Punjabi or Yoruba.
The range of jobs for linguists covers far more than translation.
"Sectors where languages are in demand include sales, customer services, finance and management consultancy," says Sec.
Other recruitment agencies report demand from sectors such as IT, online media, secretarial, accountancy and market research. Ideally, candidates should have more to offer than just a second language.
"It helps if languages are combined with extra skills and experience, such as PA and secretarial skills, accountancy or technical knowledge. For instance, we have a vacancy for a mechanical engineer who speaks Mandarin," says Kerry Perkins of Language Recruitment Services.
Perkins says pay rates for top-level accountants with languages can be up to [pounds sterling]90,000 to [pounds sterling]100,000. Linguist sales specialists can also earn over [pounds sterling]100,000, she says, while rates for bilingual or multilingual PAs can be around [pounds sterling]50,000.
"For many top-level PA jobs, languages are expected now," adds Perkins.
Language skills also make candidates more attractive to global companies, and allow them to work abroad.
Candidates with languages but lacking professional skills and experience may be able to break into the languages market with a temp job.
"There are employers looking for linguists in call centres, market research or computer-games testing, where can-didatewith little professional experience may be accepted," says Lucy Butterfield, temp specialist with ILC Recruitment in Holborn.
Experience needed varies according to the role but generally, just having used a language fluently at home will not be enough. Employers look for the ability to use the language in business.
"In jobs such as sales, familiarity with business terms is vital because you may be speaking to executives or board directors," says Butterfield.
A second language could be a solution for graduates searching for a job. "If you have a degree in another subject but speak a second language you may be able to make the language the basis of your career," added Sec. "You do not necessarily need language qualifications because we can test your fluency."
For many jobs you need to understand the culture of a country as well as speak its language, so it pays to have lived and, ideally, worked there.
"My career is partly built on languages," says Mandy Biokou, who speaks fluent Greek (her mother tongue), French and English. …