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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

June Abbott (French with Spanish, 1969)

Photo Abbott

I graduated from Durham in 1969 with a degree in French. At the time, teaching was the preferred career route for modern languages graduates, but I had no discernible aptitude for teaching. Fortunately, in my final year I saw an ad in the French Department for a newly established postgraduate diploma in translation and interpreting at Bath University. I applied and was one of six applicants to be selected.

The diploma was geared to employment in the United Nations system, requiring proficiency in two official UN languages as well as English. My French was up to standard, but I spent an intense year improving my Spanish, which I had only started at Durham. Taking the UN translation exam in spring 1970 confirmed for me the value of the Bath diploma. I passed the exam, finished at Bath and started at the UN in Geneva in September 1970. I tried out several translation jobs over the ensuing five years before taking up a post at the UN in New York in January 1976.

I have never regretted my decision. It was the most interesting and challenging job I could have imagined and I spent the next 28 years working in New York and Santiago, Chile, as well as on countless international conferences. Indeed, I still work free-lance for the UN.

I would urge any modern languages student whose natural bent is towards translation rather than literature studies to consider translation or interpreting as a career. My fellow students from Bath went on to become UN translators/interpreters and many former colleagues work for the European Union. Highly trained linguists are crucial in diplomacy and international relations, but simply being able to communicate effectively in another language while working or travelling abroad is an invaluable skill that is sadly underrated in the UK.