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Calling would-be linguists

Graduates with degrees in languages are in great demand so this event will help you to think about pursuing a career using your skills.  The Careers in Languages Day on Saturday 28 January (and again on Saturday 12 February) held at the University of Westminster, London, sounds like a good place to find out about the options open to you.

Check out this link for all the details you need - and contact the organisers direct. Have fun!

Bridging the Gap

There have been reports this year of thousands of A level students foregoing the opportunity of a gap year so that they can ensure they start university before fees are raised to £9000 a year. And this attitude is perfectly understandable. Particularly as gap years have acquired a less-than-sparkling reputation for being a 12-month-long party on the beaches of Thailand and Australia financed by the Bank of Mum and Dad.

This may have been the case for some students but many take the opportunity to do something worthwhile, be it to further their understanding of the subject they wish to study, earn some money before going to university or enhance their career prospects - or even all three. I think my own gap year probably fulfilled two of these three as well as giving me some life experience and a few hilarious anecdotes.

When I attend a local school's careers fair, I often suggest to young people that they consider spending a gap year in advance of their course. Not only will they arrive at university fluent in their chosen language, having a clear advantage over their fellows who are still making grammatical mistakes, but they will also be able to read secondary literature in the foreign language more easily (and quickly!) giving a further depth and understanding to their studies.

Gap years spent in the target language country are invaluable for linguists. By immersing oneself in the local culture, community and language, one learns so much more than a whole course could teach in three years. Classroom learning has its place, of course, but it cannot demonstrate the cultural details one learns by actually living in the country itself.

With the economy in Europe suffering its current problems, it is likely that competition will be stiff for the plum jobs (approximately 45% of Spain's young people are currently unemployed) but there are opportunities nevertheless.  This British Council website is an excellent place to start your search. And it is not restricted to opportunities for would-be translators and interpreters, there are also suggestions for those wishing to combine their language skills with other areas.

My advice to students is to think broadly. If, for example, you are interested in studying Art History, why not find a job in Italy, lodge with a family, brush up your Italian on a course for foreigners and even find a course on Italian art? or do something similar with German and Music, or French and Cookery, or any other exciting combination?

Another option, perhaps once you have completely fallen in love with the language and country, would be to consider doing a degree course in that country. If the tuition fees are lower than those in the UK, not only will your language skills benefit you will find yourself eminently employable.


Thoughts on life after A level results

In much of the UK today, young people finally came to the end of their agonising wait for their A level results.  Every year - and this year is no exception - there is much discussion and analysis in the media about the grades achieved, the scramble for university places and job prospects for those not going on to further their studies.

According to the BBC, there were 867,317 candidates for all subjects at A level this year. Of these, 13,196 (1.5%) took French, 7,610 (0.9%) took Spanish and 5,166 (0.6%) took German. Other languages including Welsh and Irish accounted for even smaller percentages.

Over the past 20 years, the number of candidates for French has dropped from nearly 30,000 to its current level - a decrease of roughly 17,000 entrants. Candidates for Spanish have increased slightly and candidates for German have decreased slightly - and this is despite German being the language most in demand by employers, according to a report by the University Council of Modern Languages. The Guardian reports an increase in candidates for Chinese - but does not report how many passed.

A quick glance at the UCAS website advertising unfilled places (clearing) at universities on modern languages degree courses indicates that there is a vast choice available to those wishing to pursue their studies. It seems there are over 269 courses ranging from Italian with Marketing offered at the University of Hull, to Computing with Hispanic Studies at the University of Kent to Electrical Engineering with a foreign language at the University of Sheffield and Translating and Interpreting courses at the University of Salford.

With so few students taking A level languages I wonder if all these places will be filled? And if not, will the courses or even the departments eventually be closed down?

Training to be a translator/interpreter - advance planning

In these days of economic depression, the news bulletins are full of doom and gloom about the paucity of jobs available for school-leavers and new graduates. It seems to be more vital than ever to start thinking about your future career as early as you possibly can.

In my view, it is never a waste of time to explore lots of options. Obviously, eventually you will have to narrow down the search but by casting your net wide at the outset you will expose yourself to lots of opportunities that may not have otherwise occurred to you. If as a native speaker of English you also speak a foreign language or two, there are lots of opportunities. One seminar at this year's Language Show (to be held at Earl's Court, London from 15-17 October) is entitled: Shortage of linguists - the EU and the UN need you.

Judging from the rest of the programme of seminars which has just been released, there are plenty of options available to job-seekers who can offer languages as one of their main skills.  Presentations will be held on recruitment to the European Parliament, working at the European Court of Justice, GCHQ, the European Commission and working as a conference interpreter. There is also a seminar about voluntary roles using your languages at the Olympics to be held in London in 2012.

There are also seminars for teachers of languages, learners of English as a Foreign or Second Language and learners of foreign languages. All this information under one roof over the course of a weekend!


Training as a Translator

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News from TrànslationWörks 16 June 2010

Recently, I was invited to participate at a careers evening held at a secondary school here in Bath. My role was to speak to young people individually about their aspirations for using languages in their careers and particularly in the world of translation.

I had no idea how many people would come to my desk and so I was delighted when I had a steady stream of youngsters stopping for a chat.

One of the many attractive advantages to being a translator is that one can embark upon a career in this area at almost any stage in life once one has acquired the necessary level of language skills.

Acquiring language skills is naturally the key point. My advice to the young people included:

  • making sure that in their enthusiasm for foreign languages they did not neglect their skills in the English language
  • exploring the possibility of spending some time in their "source-language" country before embarking on their degree course, gaining fluency, understanding how the foreign language really works (i.e. going beyond a school textbook)
  • gaining experience and understanding of one or more professions in which they might like to specialise, and considering taking a degree course that combines a profession with a language, such as Engineering with German or Economics with Italian - the combinations are almost endless. Taking this route has the advantage that one learns - and can correctly apply - the right terminology in both languages as well as learning the nuts and bolts of the subject area.

There are, of course, other routes into translation such as the traditional approach of taking a Modern Languages degree or a degree in Translation Studies. I'd be interested in hearing from established translators about the route they took and what, if anything, they would do differently with the wonderful advantage of hindsight!