Languages are invaluable for STEM students

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By Topaz Maitland, SciTech Digital Editor

Epigram SciTech spoke to three Bristol STEM students about the benefits speaking different languages has had for their work.

Learning languages opens doors. In the working world, the most challenging problems that STEM students will tackle involve working with people from a diverse set of backgrounds and nationalities. Speaking another person’s language can create diverse new friendships and a deeper understanding of different cultures. Such skills are invaluable for everyone.

Whether working or travelling abroad or being able to hear people’s stories, these students all agree that their ability to communicate with a wider range of people has made a big impact on their lives.

Epigram / Joe McFarlane

Joe McFarlane, a fifth year Engineering Design student, spoke about working in Kenya for his placement year. Learning Luganda and Swahili conversationally were vital because most people didn’t speak English.

‘Even if the person does speak English, being able to speak to in their mother-tongue can create a point of reference and common understanding which is otherwise hard to achieve. This makes it easier to create and establish meaningful relationships with people when meeting for the first time.

If I speak with a Muganda in Luganda, often the response I get is Webaale nnyo kuyiga Oluganda which means “thank you so much for learning Luganda!” Either way, speaking in another language can help to break down cultural barriers that may exist between people.’

Joe also told us about how invaluable his language skills were in the work environment. ‘During my Industrial Placement year, I worked for an engineering company in Kenya. Whilst working on construction sites, I used a mixture of English and Swahili to speak with colleagues and the client. Being able to use both languages helped communication, particularly during team meetings, and thereby facilitated the progress of work on site.’

Epigram / Ilham Said

Ilham Said, fourth year Aerospace Engineering, spoke about growing up speaking English and Arabic and how this fuelled her obsession with travel and learning new languages.

‘I’ve found that being bilingual not only helps me when I’m in other countries, but also opens doors in my own country. I have come across many instances whilst travelling where I could use my language skills to get around or communicate with locals. Even if it’s just knowing basic terms or greetings or picking up on cultural references and jokes. I feel that learning a new language gives you a greater global understanding of the world.’

Ilham has also been teaching herself Japanese, and picked up some Mandarin after a summer program in China. Knowing more languages has allowed her to have a deeper cultural understanding on her travels, and to communicate with a much wider array of people.

Epigram / Abusha Abbas

Anusha Abbas, second year Chemistry, told us about her passion for gathering stories and how speaking Punjabi has allowed her to learn about her family’s history.

‘My grandparents spoke very little English, but because I can speak Punjabi I was able to listen to them talk about their childhood and memorable experiences growing up... I have such a passion for listening to people’s stories and translating them into English. Speaking Punjabi immediately opens up a million more stories to listen to!’

Languages are an invaluable skill and it’s never too late to start.  As Ilham told Epigram, ‘learning a new language will boost your ability to do well in problem-solving tasks across the board. Networking is such a vital part of today’s working world and being able to communicate in someone’s native tongue is not only impressive but sets you apart as a STEM student.’

If you’re keen to starting learning a language, you can start any time. For the adventurous, you could explore the possibilities of doing a year of study abroad or taking a language open unit, but you can even start learning in your free time, with one of the many student societies devoted to different cultures and languages. Many of them even provide the opportunity to learn with a professional teacher outside of your degree.

Featured image: Epigram / Ilham Said


Have languages helped you in your work? Let us know!

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