Students urged to Brexit-proof career prospects by studying foreign languages

Foreign languages celebration event provides workshops in Mandarin Chinese, Polish and Portuguese

Secondary school students are being urged to Brexit-proof their career prospects by studying foreign languages as part of new campaign which gets underway this week.

Almost 5,000 students across 70 schools in Ireland are participating in the #ThinkLanguages 2020 event, billed as the largest foreign languages celebration event in the country.

Karen Ruddock, director of Post Primary Languages Ireland, said Brexit means it is imperative that Irish people become better users of foreign languages.

“Whereas previously they could rely on trade with the UK, they can no longer do this. If they want to adapt to the new world and sell in other countries they need to learn the languages spoken in other countries,” she said.


“Everyone talks about the importance of Stem subjects but you can’t access Stem markets without a foreign language.”

She said the purpose of #ThinkLanguages event is to raise awareness among transition year students of the “absolute relevance and necessity of having a foreign language to open doors to more opportunities in their lives”.

Ms Ruddock said we have to look beyond the traditional provision of mainly French and broaden language offerings available to students.

This week’s mostly online event, for example, is providing workshops in Mandarin Chinese, Polish and Portuguese.

Schools are also being given access to virtual talks and workshops which range from Spanish flamenco dancing and Portuguese capoeira to Italian cuisine and Danish design.

In addition, many schools are creating their own events by inviting in speakers talk about why languages are important in their lives, while some are asking students from non-Irish backgrounds to teach their home language this week.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said the theme of this year's event - "think global, act local" - was very relevant in a year were we have all come to realise the importance of communicating with our fellow global citizens.

“Take some time today to reflect on the languages around you - in your school, in your community,” she said. “There are so many opportunities to learn a few words from a friend or neighbour, find out what languages they speak and a bit more about them too.”

Ms Ruddock said this is an im[portant time for transition year students who now considering what they will study for their Leaving Cert and beyond.

“By showing them the benefits that foreign language skills give them in their life and career, we encourage them to keep up their foreign languages and maybe even take on another language for the Leaving Certificate,” she said. “#ThinkLanguages is a language class with a difference - it should open students’ minds and really bring many different aspects of languages to life.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent