Emma was a Language Assistant in Vienna and is now a fundraiser for an international development charity

Emma was a Language Assistant in Vienna and is now a fundraiser for an international development charity by Emmanuel Dyan

This article was written by Global Graduates, published on 11th March 2012 and has been read 32139 times.

Emma studied History and German at Manchester University and spent her third year abroad as an English Language Assistant at two secondary schools in Vienna, Austria, teaching mostly 11-18 year olds. She graduated in 2010 and is now a fundraiser for an international development charity.
"I didn’t understand at first, but that year was probably one of the best years of my life. I grew up so fast, became more independent, challenged myself and took myself out of my comfort zone. It was difficult but amazing. In every job interview I have, I talk about my time in Vienna in some way. I now feel like I could move anywhere in the world, adapt to new cultures and settle in quickly after having done this in Vienna. I met so many new people, learnt about different cultures, and did things that I would never have done otherwise. I am much more interested in European culture, history and politics. I also feel at ease travelling and find it easy to 'have a go' at speaking other languages now. I have more self-esteem and believe in my ability.

To put it bluntly, the level of language teaching in England is poor. If you don’t have this opportunity to go abroad, then it is very difficult to fluently learn a language and to start to learn linguistic nuances, set phrases, even jokes and the sense of humour. Classes can teach you the grammar and the vocab, you can go over the same items year on year, but it makes no difference if you don’t use it, don’t practice it and don’t immerse yourself in the daily life and culture of the country. Not only this, but learning a language is about acquisition and osmosis as well, just by being in the country – listening, reading, seeing - you start to absorb vocab and understand the language on a different level. Moreover, schools teach you formal language – which isn’t actually spoken really. You learn very quickly when you get that country that this isn’t the language which ‘real people’ speak in the country you are going to. By going to a country, you can learn there the context of words, phrases, colloquial speech, mannerisms – which will inevitably improve your fluency and ability to communicate properly in that language.

On top of this, learning a language is about learning how to communicate properly, learning how to understand others and being able to understand – these are desirable skills needed in employment. I am now a fundraiser for an international development charity and although I don’t use my German ability very much, I still read, watch films, and keep in touch with friends in Germany and Austria. Working in an international development charity means that I am likely to spend time overseas, having already done this in Vienna, I feel very confident to do this again. I am also looking to work at a German charity in the future to continue learning the language and living abroad. Learning the German enabled me to understand the structure of the English language and, consequently, I feel that I am a better writer. I use these skills writing fundraising pieces or speeches.

I go back to my first point; Britain is very far behind other countries in terms of language ability. The teaching in schools and even universities is below par (for example I was mostly taught in English not German). If British students are really going to go into global business, without having this year abroad, it will become increasingly harder to gain those posts and ultimately, the British economy and business will suffer."

In partnership with the British Academy and University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) we gathered short reports from graduates on the importance that the year abroad has had for them, in terms of their skill set, their careers and their lives. These reports formed the basis of the Position Statement: Valuing the Year Abroad. Browse the reports below for inspiration, and select a tag within a report to read more on that theme.

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