Future Proofing Language Graduate Skills at DCU

Future Proofing Language Graduate Skills at DCU

In recent years we’ve seen a lot of discussion about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what it will mean for jobs in the future. A primary focus is on what jobs will be automated and what jobs will not and this of course permeates to what choices students should make regarding college courses and which skills are “future-proof”. These discussions are important to us in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS for short) at DCU. We want to make sure that our graduates are equipped with a broad range of skills and competences so that they can be successful in the future, no matter what career path they chose.

There is no shortage of discussion on AI and jobs of the future. For example, IBEC, the Irish lobby group for businesses, published a report called “Future ready: improving graduate employability skills” which has a specific set of recommendations for education institutions including a review of teaching programme to consider the opportunities for employability in the curriculum. Another example comes from the World Economic Forum, who, in 2019, published six recommendations for future-proofing universities. This discussion has also been taken up by organisations that have an interest in graduates with language and translation skills. For example, in 2012, the European Language Council issued a report on “The Future of Language Degrees”. In that report, the growing need for intercultural mediators with excellent multilingual skills is recognised. IBEC has also explicitly recognised the importance of language skills for business.

Translation from one language to another is one of the key topic areas in SALIS and we are often asked if that task will become redundant, thanks to the increasing availability of free, online automatic translation services (“Machine Translation”) such as Google Translate, Microsoft Bing or DeepL. The short answer to this is: No! A longer answer is provided in books such as this recent one on the global importance of machine translation literacy, in other words on knowing how to use these technologies appropriately.

In SALIS at DCU, we are acutely aware of these discussions and we incorporate them into our strategic planning for teaching and learning, as well as into our research. Although differences of opinion exist, a majority view is that graduates of the AI-driven future will need specific skills such as “learning to learn”, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, knowledge of data science, digital skills, and creativity more than ever.

In our recent discussions on the topic of future-proofing, we collated examples of how we are addressing these skills and competences throughout all of our programmes from undergraduate to Masters level, and throughout all years of study. In this blog post we provide just a few examples from our current offerings.

Interpersonal Skills

Students are taught how to give useful and informative feedback to their peers that goes beyond the superficial level and is delivered in a supportive way, and this happens in the foreign languages they are learning. Through role play in the language classroom, students learn about different conflict styles and how to manage conflict scenarios. At Masters’ level students form teams in a simulated work environment, taking on different roles such as project manager, translator, terminologist and they learn how to work together in a collegial and supportive way. All of these activities require the development of essential skills that are applicable to any work environment, with the added advantage of being able to function in a multilingual work environment.

Critical Thinking

Development of critical thinking skills is a fundamental aspect of many university programmes. In SALIS, for example, students are given a topic to debate in the foreign language. They are allocated to a particular ‘point of view’, which may not represent their actual point of view, and they have to persuade others of that position, which helps in the development of  empathy and alternative points of view. Many of our modules incorporate thinking on the important topic of sustainability in this way. At final year and Masters’ level in particular, students are exposed to varying and competing theories, which they have to absorb, understand and think deeply about. Many of our modules incorporate evidence of the student’s critical thinking as a formal assessment criterion.


In reading literature in the foreign language, students will write traditional style essays, but they are also asked to create new representations of their ideas on the literature through, for example, re-enacting a scene from a novel, or creating a multimedia asset based on the novel. At Masters level, students engage with creativity in a multitude of ways, developing, for example, subtitled material, localisation strategies for websites, or language access plans for asylum seekers.

Digital Skills

It’s a common mistake to assume that ‘digital natives’ have acquired all of the digital skills they need by the time they get to university. So many of our modules require the students to enhance their existing skills and build new ones, even down to the boring, but essential skill of knowing how to manage their own data and that of others! In SALIS, students interact with cutting edge technologies, including audiovisual technology for subtitling and translation technology like translation memory, terminology management and machine translation tools.

Learning to Learn

Everything we do covers this essential life skill. More and more we are facilitating new ways of delivering content to students and facilitating different learner styles via blended delivery, flexible assessment types, online and face-to-face in the classroom, through video, audio, text and image, through mainstream delivery mechanisms, such as email and word processing tools, but also through less traditional mechanisms such as social media and online polling apps and mobile phones.

This is just a snapshot of what we currently do to ensure that we are helping to prepare our students for their various futures. We are constantly reviewing our activities in relation to the rapidly-changing landscape for employment and enhancing our offerings. Our reputation as number 1 university for graduate employment in Ireland and number 19 in the world is well-warranted and we have every intention of keeping this strong record. This applies to all the grads from our School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, not just to those from business studies or science. Our grads go on to work in the European Institutions, multinationals, not-for-profit organisations and local enterprises, to name a few.

If you want to consider our undergraduate programmes have a look at our courses here. Our MA in Translation Studies, MSc in Translation Technology and MA in Refugee Integration are still open to applicants for 2020-2021. All of these Masters programmes will be delivered online for the coming year.