Five unexpected benefits of studying a language

Grads Corner
05 January 2017 | Grads Corner | Guest Author

When I decided to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews, I knew that I would have the opportunity to travel, and that having a language degree would make me more attractive to employers. But I have found that there are many more benefits to studying a language than I had ever imagined.

1. Living like a local

Studying a language at university usually means having the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in a foreign country, either working or studying. I felt much more involved in local life by teaching English in a school in Madrid than I ever would have done by going there on holiday. And making friends with local people meant that, as well as being more immersed in the language, I got great tips about places to go and things to do and see.

2. Taking people by surprise

Whether it’s complaining about a faulty pair of shoes, or sitting in a Spanish airport reading ‘Don Quijote’, it’s a good feeling to be able to impress local people. When I taught English in Madrid, I told my students that I didn’t understand any Spanish, hoping that it might encourage them to make more of an effort to communicate in English. I’ll never forget their reaction at the end of the school year when I spoke to them in Spanish for the first time!

3. Helping out in a crisis

It’s not only medical professionals who might be needed in an emergency. If a tourist was taken ill in a restaurant in the UK, for example, a language speaker might be needed to keep them calm and explain the issue to paramedics. And when I found a child on his own in Edinburgh, my language skills enabled me to find out that he had become separated from his classmates and teachers on a school trip, and to reunite him with them.

4. Finding new favourite music, films, books…

Studying a language opens up a whole new world of media. If I hadn’t studied Spanish, I might never have even heard of some of my favourite books and films. Now I find it hard to imagine never having seen an Almodóvar film, or driving around without singing along to Shakira’s Spanish albums.

5. Getting great career opportunities

Although I knew that having a second language would look good on my CV, I had no idea just how many amazing career opportunities I would be given because of it!

In jobs where I haven’t been employed for my language skills, when a Spanish speaker has been required, I have been catapulted from junior roles into meetings with company directors and Spanish business leaders. In my translation work, I have had the opportunity to translate interesting and sometimes high-profile texts, and I have even had the opportunity to translate for members of the Royal Family.

These are just some of the incredible professional and personal benefits I have experienced as a direct result of studying Spanish. I have never regretted making the decision to study Spanish, and I would encourage anyone to consider studying a second language.


Emma Warhurst is a translator, editor and author of the psychological thriller The Last Six Days. Emma has an MA in Spanish from the University of St Andrews and an MPhil in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge.

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