Let’s start with a quick quiz.

Do you:

A) want to see elephants in their natural African habitat (complete with slightly scary territorial behaviour)?

B) want to experience 50° heat, drink a litre of water without feeling thirsty, and inadvertently perform a spaceman impression in the process?

C) want to experience the pleasure of talking to someone in their own language, and realise they are just like you?

D) want all of the above, while also getting paid for it.

The benefits of learning a foreign language are many. You’re less likely to be disappointed when ordering that tasty local delicacy on holiday abroad, for starters, and Edge Hill wants to give you every opportunity to enjoy these benefits…and your lunch, of course.

How? I hear you ask. Or should that be Comment?, Wie?, ¿Cómo?, Come?, or Madha?

(Fun quiz: can you name these five languages that EHU currently offers?)*

Well, the Language Centre has been busy over the last few months. They’ve earned British Council accreditation, providing students (and especially our international students) with quality assurance and security, along with the confidence that the University has everything in place to make their time here as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

They’ve added to their portfolio of available languages (see above), including Arabic, so if you ever wanted to work in, say, Dubai, this could be the stepping stone.

These languages have been built into the range of module options available to all students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who can now select a supported language as part of their full-time degree, and can choose to continue this for the duration of their undergraduate degree, improving steadily. Whether you can read Don Quixote in the original Spanish or barely say your name in French, there’s a class for you. And you can always team up with a foreign student via our Conversation Exchange, if you’re struggling with your subjunctive clauses, lack confidence, or simply want to practice. And lifelong friendships have been built on far less.

But we don’t want our trainee teachers and health and social care students to feel excluded. Their timetable and placement demands mean that for very practical reasons they can’t take advantage of this option, so the Language Centre has ensured that they can access the evening classes instead, with fees paid by the Student Opportunity Fund, ensuring language tuition remains free to our students. Yes, that’s right, there are no hidden costs to learning languages as a student at EHU. Which is always good, whatever language you speak.

But the real benefits come when you venture out into the big wide world.

Director of the Language Centre Carmel Roche believes that it will improve your employment prospects exponentially:

“Let’s say a teacher wanted to go and work in Spain. I’ve written many references over the years for teachers who might have applied for a job in Spain, and somewhere in the job description it’s going to say knowledge of Spanish desirable, because they want you to hit the ground running. They’re not expecting to get a really fluent teacher, but if you’ve got two candidates, one’s got no Spanish, the other’s got some, they’ll go for the one with some.”

Carmel is also keen to emphasise the huge personal and cultural advantages to learning a language. Just attempting to speak another language is hugely appreciated, and she cites many personal examples, from taxi exchanges to helping a café owner win a bet by ordering a coffee in the native tongue. Just trying breaks down barriers immediately.

An African elephant bull, yesterday

An African elephant bull, yesterday

And as for memorable experiences…remember the elephants? Carmel got a little closer than she anticipated when she hopped in a jeep on Christmas Day to see them in all their wild glory, while working in Zimbabwe. One slightly spooked elephant decided to pick their jeep up, with them still in it, and then unceremoniously drop it back down. Carmel and her companions thought that was a good point, well made, and swiftly curtailed their Yuletide expedition. To Degree the experience sounds both exhilarating and terrifying (heads up: elephants are the real kings of the African bush, and protect their territory accordingly), but it’s a worthy entry in the file marked Great Dinner Party Anecdotes.

Talking of which, while in Oman Carmel endured “ludicrously hot” temperatures which regularly sent the mercury rocketing:

“I remember walking in 52°, without even feeling thirsty you can drink a whole litre of water, and you walk like a spaceman, and you’re thinking ‘what am I walking like this for?’, plodding along without realising it, and you realise how dangerous it is…but it’s beautiful in a very different way, harsh, but gorgeous.”

But although she’s loved everywhere she’s been posted, her favourite place was Malaysia, and especially the East of Malaysia, encompassing Borneo. Clearly fascinated by the country, she gives Degree a crash course in Malaysian history, which is as interesting, complicated and downright bizarre as every other country’s. These days, being headhunted is generally considered a good thing, but for Japanese soldiers during World War II?  Not so much. But if you love to be surrounded by rainforest, and in close proximity to men of the jungle (that’s orangutans, to you and me), Borneo’s your place.

However, the biggest things you’ll notice, Carmel says, are not the differences, but the similarities between human beings:

“You see things that you’re also going to see everywhere, similar problems, you get first-hand insights into, say, what it’s like living in a Muslim country, and then you get back and hear people speak about places they’ve not lived in and that they don’t understand. I really enjoyed learning about all of that, and the people were wonderful, and live by the same rules we live by, just trying to create a good society and do all the right things. It really does help your understanding of different cultures, and why it’s like it is.”

Speaking another language builds bridges. For example, Carmel spent time in Mozambique (official language: Portuguese) in the midst of a civil war – she could see tanks beside the airstrip as she flew in. Things didn’t look promising. But despite the extreme poverty, her students were, she says, totally dedicated, and the most generous and warm-hearted people you could have wished to meet. Humbling, is the word she uses.

Jordanian Human Nutrition and Dietetics graduate Mais (above) was part of a group of international students taking advantage of EHU’s language offer. She threw herself into the pre-sessional language course, spending a very hot summer on campus getting up to speed with her English before beginning a Masters in Public Health Nutrition at EHU. She was attracted by the UK’s enviably good reputation in higher education, and spent the time focusing on academic writing, reading and presenting:

“I enjoy working with groups and discussing many different topics,” says Mais. “They taught us strategies and structures that can be used to improve our academic writing.”

A valuable part of the experience is living on campus with fellow linguistic learners, improving their skills by talking with each other in English, socialising together, and exploring the region.

And Carmel, keen to build on the work she and her team have already done, hopes to introduce practical teaching qualifications for anyone looking to teach English abroad, ideal for graduating students who could begin a 4-6 week programme immediately after completing their degree programme. During breaks they could be deciding on their chosen destinations, from Madrid to Dubai, and maybe further afield to visit the men of the jungle in Kuching (Borneo) or watch the elephants on parade in Zimbabwe for the more adventurous.

“If people wanted to actually teach English abroad and get qualified, or any of our students here get a taste for languages on one of the modules, they could go anywhere,” says Carmel.

For students who can speak another language, she says, “the world really is your oyster**”.

* give yourself a well-earned pat on the back for identifying French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic respectively. No actual prizes as we suspect you’re all very clever and will bankrupt us.

** huître/auster/ostra/ostrica/mahar