A career boosted by bilingualism? Ja, certainement!

29.11.2023 Bilingualism can boost careers: BFH alumnus Lukas Küng is deputy director of a timber construction company that promotes bilingualism and that has recently received an award for this.

Lukas Küng takes us on a tour of Schwab System in Gampelen. He is the deputy director of the timber construction company, which employs approximately 80 people. In both the joinery and the carpentry shop, a sign in French and German hangs above each machine: “scie à ruban” / “Bandsäge” above the band saw, “scie à panneaux” / “Plattenaufteilsäge” above the panel dividing saw, and so forth. As can be seen, French and German stand on an equal footing at Schwab System.

Its commitment to bilingualism has earned the company an award, the “Prix Effort Bilinguisme Économie”, in autumn 2023. The prize is bestowed by the Cantonal Bank of Bern, the Biel-Seeland economic chamber, the Chamber of Public Economy of the Bernese Jura, the Biel-Seeland/Bernese Jura Trade and Industry Association, and the Forum du bilingualisme in recognition of company efforts that promote the coexistence of the two official languages of the canton.

A difficult start

Lukas Küng embodies bilingualism. The former BFH student switches back and forth between French and German. With the company employees, he mainly speaks French, as the company has its roots in Prêles in the Bernese Jura (it moved to Gampelen nine years ago). But with the majority of his customers, Küng speaks German. There is a reason for this: he is one of the few german-speaking employees in the admin department.

It would benefit our country if we could communicate better across language barriers.

Lukas Küng
Lukas Küng

The now easy and effortless transition from one language to the other, as natural as it is to him today, has not always been so smooth in the past. “When I finished school, I was fed up of speaking French. I never wanted to have anything to do with it again,” chuckles Lukas Küng. But his relationship with the language of Molière has evolved, allowing him to follow an interesting career path within just a few years.

A time for reconciliation

After completing his apprenticeship as a carpenter, the Bernese moved to Vaud, where he earned his first professional stripes, while attending school one day a week to improve his French. This was the beginning of his reconciliation with a language that would soon mean much more to him.

At this stage, Küng decided to study wood technology at BFH, a study programme that includes a nine-month work placement in a private company. Küng ended up at Schwab System in Gampelen, where he could develop his technical and linguistic skills, as he likes to emphasise. Obviously, he was able to score points with the speacialised knowledge he brought to the company and his competency in French. While finishing his work placement, the company management invited him to join Schwab System for good. In mid-2020, the company hired the young graduate to work for them as an engineer. Around three years later, he was promoted to deputy director.

An open horizon

Speaking French has shaped Lukas Küng’s work life and opened new personal horizons: “Now, I face different languages and cultures without blinkers.” In the meantime, he calls for the targeted promotion of exchanges between the national language communities in Switzerland. He believes that the education system still has a lot of potential in this field: “It would benefit our country if we could communicate better across language barriers.”

There is a common assertion that only those who dream in a foreign language have really mastered it. Is that the case for Lukas Küng? No, he confesses, French has not yet become second nature to him, at least not to that extent. But when he solves a technical problem, he sometimes thinks in French. Occasionally, he even takes the language back home after work: “Now and then, I speak in French to my girlfriend without meaning to.”

A trilingual BFH

BFH sees itself as a diverse university that is committed to promoting cultural and social diversity. This includes multilingualism. In addition to the two official languages of the Canton of Bern, German and French, English is also an official language at BFH. BFH’s Language Policy stipulates that these three languages “are to be used and cared for in a spirit of mutual respect” and that people should be able to study and work in “linguistically diverse contexts”. All in all, language and intercultural skills are becoming increasingly important in an interconnected world. With regard to students, BFH’s Language Policy points out that graduates must be able to communicate in at least another language.

Lukas Küngs teht vor einer Kehlmaschine
Former BFH student Lukas Küng embodies bilingualism, as does the company he works for, Schwab System in Gampelen, which labels all its machines in two languages.