Lowri Evans

Lowri Evans

Deputy Director General of Operations for the European Commission tells us how learning another language opens up doors.

RYG: What does the job entail?

LE: It's a managerial job and I am responsible for making sure that our machine is working, that means producing lots of policy and strategy.

RYG: How did you get this job?

LE: It was accidental. I was working with Deloitte as an accountant. It started to dawn on me that I didn't fit the profile of having a long-term career there. I was looking around and I preferred the idea of coming to Brussels, rather than London. I did an exam, went to Brussels to see what it was like, and I'm still here.

RYG: How many languages do you speak?

LE: I speak English and French. I also speak Welsh fluently, which is an unofficial language here in the European Commission, and I know a little Italian.

RYG: What sort of language skills do you need to work for the European Commission?

LE: At the European Commission the dominant languages are English and French. You have to be fluent in English and French to survive and flourish. The more languages you have the more options you have for working on specific projects. Most of my colleagues speak five or six languages. Some speak more than that.

RYG: When did you start learning other languages?

LE: I spoke Welsh at home as a child and learnt English at school. I learnt French when I went to secondary school, when I was about 11-years-old.

RYG: How did you improve those language skills?

LE: I took French A level. I didn't use it at all after leaving school until I came here. I had to think very hard for a whole weekend for one of the interviews I had to work here. I had a strategy of memorising some obvious answers to some obvious questions and I got away with it. Once I got the job I had to improve my French language skills. That was a nice challenge.

RYG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to improve their language skills or begin learning a language?

LE: It's vital that you do some travelling. I'm not a very good linguist in an abstract, academic environment. I learnt languages by forcing myself to live and work in different countries. Putting yourself in at the deep end and seeing how you can survive is the best way to do it.

RYG: What do you think is the key to learning a language?

LE: Wanting to learn and to communicate with people, to know what other people are thinking. Wanting to know what a country is like from the experiences of people rather than from reading. That's what language is about for me. It's communication, it's an awareness, and it's an enriching experience.

Immersion is the way to do it. When you're trying to learn a language don't worry about being a perfectionist, just try to communicate rather than worrying about getting it right all the time.

RYG: Do languages help in terms of improving an individual's employability?

LE: Of course they do. If we can recruit people with five fluent languages we're going to do that. We're not going to recruit somebody who can only speak one language. You're going to need two or three languages minimum before you get through the door.

RYG: What tips would you give to somebody about to enter the job market?

LE: Everybody should be learning a language. It opens up options in the future that you wouldn't otherwise have had. If I hadn't done my French O level and A level, I wouldn't have been able to live and work in Brussels. That wasn't why I studied French of course, I think I probably studied French because it meant I could go on the school trips (laughs). There are no negatives to learning a language. You've got nothing to lose.

RYG: What other reasons are there for learning another language?

LE: If I speak to a French colleague in French we have a better level of communication. I'm showing them I can listen better, and I'm showing respect. I'm showing cultural awareness through speaking French.

RYG: Is it important to be confident when learning another language?

LE: Absolutely. Be prepared to make mistakes. Just keep on going and learn through your mistakes.

RYG: What have languages given you?

LE: They allowed me to go on school trips when I was younger. They've given me access to French cooking. Languages have also given me access to all the job opportunities that I've had in Brussels. They've allowed me to travel and made me more open to other cultures. That makes me a better professional and a better person.

RYG: How long was it before you felt that you were fluent in French?

LE: It can become seamless quite quickly, but with a very reduced vocabulary. You can get to a good level of communication very quickly. Some people say that when you've mastered the grammatical essentials of a language you only need a thousand words to be able to communicate.

RYG: What advice would you give to young people looking to follow in your footsteps?

LE: When we hire people we're looking for a number of qualities. You have to be very adaptable to work in a multi-cultural environment. Adaptability is the number one thing. Plus we're looking for a good level of basic intelligence.

We're also looking for good team players - people who can work well with a variety of people. Finally, don't give up, you can do anything if you believe in yourself.

Attitude is massive. You can have talent, but if you don't have the right attitude, nobody's going to take you on.

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