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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Tony Williams (French & Spanish, 2005)

Photo Williams

It’s hard for me to imagine what life would be like without the language skills I acquired at Durham. When I arrived there I had an A-Level in French but not a word of Spanish; since graduating I have lived in Madrid, Salamanca, Lisbon and Santiago de Chile. That list of cities is perhaps a good illustration of how a language degree can change your life!

The decision to read modern languages, and later translation studies (at Leeds) led me to some wonderful career opportunities. After Durham I was able to secure a job in television subtitling (at Sky in West London) and, later, in translation. As a Spanish-to-English translator I have worked as a contractor for a multinational company in Madrid, as a volunteer with an NGO in Salamanca, and as a self-employed freelancer. Being self-employed gives you a lot of freedom, which in my case I used to move to Portugal and learn Portuguese. I think much of the confidence and know-how needed to pursue these opportunities also came from Durham, especially the fact that I had lived in Spain as a participant in the Erasmus programme during my year abroad.

All of this experience stood me in good stead to go for a job with the United Nations. In 2012 I passed the Language Competitive Examination and last year was offered a post with ECLAC, the organization’s regional headquarters for Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a source of some surprise that I have ended up in Chile, because I always focused my studies on European Spanish. But it goes to show that language careers can take you in exciting and unexpected directions.

Economic Commission for Latin America & the Caribbean website