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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Richard (French, German & Spanish, 1995)

‘Oh great, I’ve been trying to find you. I really need your help. If you could do me a favour and please call this doctor in Germany, you may just save someone’s life.’ Mark, a project manager at the international central laboratory I was working for, had tracked me down to the office canteen to ask me to relay some worrying blood-test results to a German doctor. As the resident linguist responsible for organizing the transportation of biological samples from various European locations to our laboratory in London, I’d been hired largely for the three languages I’d studied just a few years before at Durham. This was one of those days when I felt I was making a difference and was vindicated in my choice of degree.

My first job after graduation was checking translations of patents from French and German into English. This can be a great stepping-stone towards a career in translation, particularly when combined with further translation study at postgraduate level, since you’re exposed on a daily basis to what can only be described as ‘linguistic gymnastics’! Technical translators are required to produce readable English from scientific descriptions which are often long and complicated, manipulating the phrasing to allow for differences in word order, etc., while not missing out a single detail of what are essentially legal documents designed to protect highly valuable intellectual property. So checking translations is a great introduction to the world of translation, a career which can provide for a lot of freedom.

Like me, you’ve probably always taken an interest in overseas travel and foreign cultures and you’ve had some amazingly positive experiences while abroad, your interactions with the locals serving to cultivate your interest further. So why not combine putting your languages to good use with your love of travel? Working for a travel company, whether it’s as a tour guide, on a cruise ship, or putting together European tours as I did, is another great way I’ve found to pursue a passion for foreign travel while putting your language degree to good use.

What about a combined degree? Some will argue that it’s best to do a combined degree to develop skills and knowledge in a particular vocation such as business or economics alongside your languages. This is a great option to make yourself as employable as possible, but I’ve happily observed that a pure language degree, preferably with two or more languages, can also be a back door into business, law and other specialist vocations – experience in a particular industry can be accrued over time or by combining a language degree with an appropriate postgraduate course.

As I’m now about to pursue language teaching as a career to give something back to the next generation of linguists, I’ve found that knowledge of at least two foreign languages is highly favoured. It was my degree in multiple languages at Durham that made me so employable in my other jobs, from my stint with a tour operator, then at the laboratory, to my subsequent career as a freelance translator. However, there’s no question that one modern foreign language is quite enough to attract the interest of so many companies now looking for people who have strong communication skills combined with a knowledge of the country and culture they wish to operate in. I’m certain that the many doors already open and beckoning to modern languages graduates today will only increase in number in the future. Your skills are in demand, so believe in yourself and your abilities and have fun conquering the world with languages!