It was a pleasure and a privilege to represent careers in Modern Foreign Languages at the recent careers fair at one of our local secondary schools, Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton, North Yorkshire. A huge ‘well done’ is due to the organiser, Careers Advisor Yvonne Lang, on such a superbly organised event – I spent a full 2 hours talking solidly to mainly 15 and 16 year old linguists, and most of the other professions represented seemed to be very busy too.
After a few minutes, it became clear that the young people and their parents had just one question in mind initially – what careers can you follow if you study languages at university? I chose to speak from very personal experience, and I was quoting 3 initial thoughts:
- As recommended by my university careers service after my degree in German Studies, you can be a teacher. I have every admiration for teachers, and they make a real difference to the lives of young people and widen their horizons through languages – but that is a special talent and was not for me.
- - You can, as I did, join a company that sells things in the country where your studied language is spoken. On joining a company in the plastics industry, I was sent immediately to Germany to work at trade shows and exhibitions. I then became the export contact for the company, and was sent to France and Holland. After a few years, I became an export manager at other companies and visited many countries on business including South Africa, Korea and Saudi Arabia. A qualification in languages is a passport – and a head start - into the fascinating world of international business and travel. You can be a one man or woman boost to your country’s balance of payments balance!
- - You can, as I did after 10 years of the above-mentioned exporting life, enter the thriving translation and interpreting profession. You generally need a post-graduate qualification to open up a number of career possibilities including translation of written documents (Legal? Technical? What could be your specialist subject?) from your studied language, conference interpreting to and from your mother tongue or translation project management. Your role is enabling companies and people to communicate and do business.
But just talking about all this reminded me of others who have used their languages in other careers. I know a chartered accountant who has a degree in Russian and French – and has been sent to audit his firm’s Russian and Bulgarian officers. I know a UK patent attorney who uses his fluent German to act at the European Patent Court in Munich….and I know a Spanish-speaking solicitor who specialises in Spanish property work….
So there are many options. But I tried to explain too that learning languages is great just for itself – for giving you a window into another culture, for helping you to understand what others are thinking and why they behave as they do…
I’d love to hear from other linguists on this topic. What have I missed? What other career ideas are out there? And why are more people in the UK not studying languages?
Mark Robinson, Alexika Ltd