Malin Freiberg is the Director of Global Reward at Dialog Semiconductor.
One might not think that the electronics sector does not require knowing a foreign language, but Malin uses a language other than English everyday! From meetings to talking with colleagues, Malin finds knowing another language very beneficial while at work.
Could you give us some examples of when you have used foreign languages at work?
I held a remote training session via Webex (online) with our managers in Germany. Although our company language is English and I held the presentation in English, some of our staff is more comfortable asking questions in their native language. I was able to take and answer questions in German, ensuring that the managers had correctly understood the training content and enabling them to participate fully.
I recently had to research an Austrian law that specifies that you have advertise the minimum salary you will pay for each job when you advertise it in a newspaper or online. The legislation had not been translated into English and I was able to read the regulation in the German original and take the appropriate action, ensuring that the company was not fined.
When the company I worked for started operating in Finland, I was able to assist with the set-up of the employee benefits and confirm what would be covered by the state health insurance. I don’t speak or read Finnish, but Swedish is an official language in Finland (spoken by a minority) and information on government websites was available in Swedish (which I speak).
Would you say that speaking foreign languages is advantageous in your sector?
Many international companies operate in the UK in the electronics sector, but also in many other sectors. Although the company language is often English across the world in these companies, you will get the opportunity for more interesting roles and more responsibility if you are able to take on a regional or global role. Being able to speak other languages is often desirable in these jobs and opens up doors to more opportunities.
How proficient would you say people need to be for language skills to be useful at work?
Some skills in a foreign language will already be of some help. Sometimes, being able to read in another language to some degree can already be quite helpful. For other jobs, speaking the language can be more important, so proficiency is all areas is not always needed.
What is more important is that you are confident in a language for the purpose that you will be using it. To be able to make best use of a language at work, you will need to know more than holiday use. In my experience, four to five years of language learning at school is not enough to give you the confidence or proficiency that you need. I felt more confident and able to use the language that I studied after eight years or more.
What would you say to a young person about the benefits of speaking at least one other language when entering the workplace?
It will give you amazing opportunities, let you get to know people in other countries and from other countries really well, and open lots of doors in business and in your career. It can make the difference between getting a contract or not and getting a job or not.
What helped you to learn languages effectively?
I learnt to speak Swedish from my parents, as we spoke it at home and it was their first language. I would encourage everyone who has a parent who is a native speaker of any language to use it at home and keep it going (although it is hard sometimes) and to see if you school will support you to take GCSEs or other qualifications in it, even if the school does not normally teach the language. In my opinion, this is key for a good school and parents selecting schools for their schools for their children. Parents should ask how willing the school is to support this. If this is not offered in your school, see if you can attend a ‘Saturday school’, which are often run by local community groups to ensure their language is passed on.
I learnt German because my parents moved to Germany for work when I was quite young and I went to the normal, local pre-school and school there, and did not attend an international school. It forced me to learn German to native speaker level really quickly. So if you get the chance, go live abroad, go on an extended school exchange, or take a language course abroad in the holidays. Avoid spending time with other English speakers while you are there and really immerse yourself into the language.
A massive thank you to Malin for all her advice on how to learn another language and for telling us about her experiences.
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