Bridging the Gap

There have been reports this year of thousands of A level students foregoing the opportunity of a gap year so that they can ensure they start university before fees are raised to £9000 a year. And this attitude is perfectly understandable. Particularly as gap years have acquired a less-than-sparkling reputation for being a 12-month-long party on the beaches of Thailand and Australia financed by the Bank of Mum and Dad.

This may have been the case for some students but many take the opportunity to do something worthwhile, be it to further their understanding of the subject they wish to study, earn some money before going to university or enhance their career prospects - or even all three. I think my own gap year probably fulfilled two of these three as well as giving me some life experience and a few hilarious anecdotes.

When I attend a local school's careers fair, I often suggest to young people that they consider spending a gap year in advance of their course. Not only will they arrive at university fluent in their chosen language, having a clear advantage over their fellows who are still making grammatical mistakes, but they will also be able to read secondary literature in the foreign language more easily (and quickly!) giving a further depth and understanding to their studies.

Gap years spent in the target language country are invaluable for linguists. By immersing oneself in the local culture, community and language, one learns so much more than a whole course could teach in three years. Classroom learning has its place, of course, but it cannot demonstrate the cultural details one learns by actually living in the country itself.

With the economy in Europe suffering its current problems, it is likely that competition will be stiff for the plum jobs (approximately 45% of Spain's young people are currently unemployed) but there are opportunities nevertheless.  This British Council website is an excellent place to start your search. And it is not restricted to opportunities for would-be translators and interpreters, there are also suggestions for those wishing to combine their language skills with other areas.

My advice to students is to think broadly. If, for example, you are interested in studying Art History, why not find a job in Italy, lodge with a family, brush up your Italian on a course for foreigners and even find a course on Italian art? or do something similar with German and Music, or French and Cookery, or any other exciting combination?

Another option, perhaps once you have completely fallen in love with the language and country, would be to consider doing a degree course in that country. If the tuition fees are lower than those in the UK, not only will your language skills benefit you will find yourself eminently employable.


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