Tag Archives: foreign languages

Working in languages

One of the things that attracts most of us to working for the EU is the possibility of using the languages we have studied hard to acquire. In this office we do a lot of work to make people aware of the opportunities that come with speaking languages, not just working for the EU, but in many other ways. Languages do open doors. Two of my colleagues took part in a live q&a on the careers guardian website last week looking at the possibilities of language careers.

I was putting this up on Twitter and thought, maybe I should be writing about this in another language. So I’m going to start an idea to have anyone who blogs about EU issues writing a post in another language on the European Day of Languages, 26 September. Who is in with me?

[This is a post that got caught in my draft folder, so the idea won’t be new to some of you]

Talking my language

We hosted an event here today on language careers in the EU. In the first instance it was an opportunity to show the new clip done by the translation department showing what working as an EU translator is about.

Three of us made brief presentations about the EU recruitment process, working as a conference interpreter and a lawyer-linguist and then we threw the floor open to questions.

We had quite a mixed group of people – careers staff, students, recent graduates, freelance translator, even barristers – and the questions were pretty wide-ranging as well, though of course mainly focused on the recruitment procedure. The issue of how to get into working as a freelance translator for the Commission also came up quite a bit.

The main message from our side was that if you are British and have a talent for languages, this is the perfect time to consider this career path. English is a pivotal language in the Commission as, like it or not, it is the default working language for most of the organisation. As letters, proposals, legislation etc come in from all the different Member States, they need to be translated into English so the Commission can work with them. Brits are currently under-represented in the EU institutions, including the Commission, so there is a real need for good British candidates. And the final element is that a significant number of the existing English translators are due to retire in the next few years. So just as English is more in demand than ever, it is facing a recruitment crisis. So if you apply and get through, there is little chance of languishing on the reserve list, unless you want to!

So if you have a degree, a talent for languages, and an interest in working in the EU, give it a go! The translator recruitment will be announced on 13 July, and you can get details from eu-careers.eu, via the EU Careers facebook page or following @EU_Careers on Twitter (though I do retweet most of their important announcements)

Working for a living

This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.

Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!

So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:

1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.

2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.

3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.

4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…

5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.

I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.

Smalltown girl

A big thanks to the members of Abingdon European Society who welcomed me so warmly to their meeting on Saturday. I was there at their request to talk about recent developments in the European Union. I had quite a moment when the chairwoman introduced me saying I would talk for “about an hour”, knowing that I had a very short slideshow and a tough challenge to make the EU an interesting topic for as long as it would take to show that, never mind an hour! I already felt I was on a losing wicket, being up against the final match of the Six Nations and a concert of Russian music in the nearby church. But it seemed to go very well. I kept the presentation very light – no-one’s looking for an in-depth exposé of the co-decision procedure on a Saturday night – and there was a good range of questions. A bit of a discussion got going on the whole issue of measuring the wealth and state of a nation: our shorthand is “Beyond GDP“. Maybe they should consider having a separate meeting on that, as it really is a fascinating issue. A lot of interest in the whole situation regarding language-learning in the UK and its knock-on effect on UK influence in the European institutions, as Brits are on the whole lacking the required language skills to get in. Several people said that Britons are at a disadvantage: they don’t need to learn foreign languages as so many people speak English. That argument is debatable: Cardiff Business School research suggests that the UK loses £9 billion of business a year due to our poor language skills. The other problem we face here is that people who speak languages tend to study languages – what we are lacking are the multilingual lawyers, scientists and administrators that come out of other countries’ education systems.

A night to remember

Whatever happens tonight, it’s going to be one to remember I reckon. Is it just me, or does the whole day have that “on the cusp of history” feel about it? I have a friend coming round who used to live in the US and an American friend of hers, so it should be interesting to get that perspective on events. Well, that’ll be tomorrow’s entry I guess!

The weekend was quite fun, even the stint on the stall at the Languages Show. I was there just over 2 hours and spoke to so many people, some of whom were just going from stall to stall seeing what jobs were out there, but some of whom were genuinely interested in a European perpsective to their careers. Somebody could maybe do a study about the correlation between the UK’s declining language skills and the rise in Euroscepticism. And you might have seen me on BBC Breakfast that morning – lots of people did, even if they did get my name wrong! My brother came up that evening with a few friends from Stowe, which was fun – my first big stay-out-late, go-clubbing, wake-up-with-a-hangover night since I got to London – oh how things change. On Sunday I drove up to Suffolk, where I stayed in a lovely B&B before filming for a Jamie Oliver programme, which was good fun (if sooooo cold.) The drive back was much less fun though – 4 hours in the rain and the dark, hitting London’s rush hour traffic. It isn’t so much the cars, I can pretty much cope with them, it’s the thousands of motorbikes and scooters every time you stop at a light. If you’re near the front of the queue they swarm round you like a cloud of midges, it’s very weird.

Today has been pretty horrible – the woman at Arsenal doing the Double Club trip has been taken into hospital, so with all the last minute arrangements to be done, our main liaison, or rather lynch-pin, is pretty much out of the picture. So cross fingers that we manage it all and those kids have a good time. Still, Toomas, our intern, has done a fantastic job, hats off to him.

Silly season

There’s been a story doing the rounds a bit during “silly season” that’s actually pretty interesting. It all comes from a piece in the Sunday Times about how there is a dearth of quality English native speaker translators and interpreters in the European institutions. While there may be some nuance that was missed, the article has started a more general reflection on UK language skills. A recent report shows a dramatic decrease in numbers studying French and German. Having said that, there do still seem to be a lot of people taking languages as a module. That’s the route I took – one language at A-level, one improved during my year off and both taken as modules in another type of degree. But I do believe that having languages at my disposal greatly improved my employability. Certainly in terms of the jobs I got while I was at university – shops in touristy areas in London, marketing, English language schools: all using my languages. Never mind the fun you get meeting new people, going to new places and surprising people by being a Brit that can talk something other than English. Given the importance of multilingualism to the European Union, it’s an issue we take an interest in, even if we don’t have any direct involvement. And we provide support to those that promote language learning, with the UK doing pretty well there, as recent awards show.

Hasn’t it been great watching the Olympics! I was looking forward to the Velodrome since the Commonwealth Games, where we gave a real hint of what was to come. And boy they didn’t disappoint. Just amazing, and also displaying real form for the future, with lads like Ross Edgar and Jason Kenny. I just feel so bad for Cav and I hope his four stages of the Tour will compensate to some extent for missing out. And then the sailors, swimmers, rowers, runners, jumpers, riders and kayakers…so exciting. And hopefully there’s more to come! I love the chance to watch the sports that don’t usually make it to the screen, which is why I can’t really get excited about the football and tennis – they have their chance. The Olympics for me is about archery, weightlighting, fencing, modern pentathlon and all the other sports that people around the world are dedicating themselves to, not for money or fame, but because they love it and they get a buzz from being good at it.

Feeling calmer now

I didn’t post yesterday because I was having a ‘mare of a day dealing with various administrative things in Brussels and here and the entry would have been one long rant. And no-one wants that, do they! But I met a friend after work and went to Watch this Space and that went a long way to calming me down.

I was at the Spanish Embassy this morning for the awards to the schools in the UK that teach Spanish best. I went along because quite a few of the people involved in the Arsenal Double Club were there. That project is winning its own award next week, so we have been thinking about how to get word out about it. I tried some different angles – Observer Sports Monthly, Times Education – but I’m not hopeful. Shame, because I think it’s a great story on many levels. They were saying at the awards today that Spanish is rising in popularity as a foreign language, partly because of cultural things such as seeing big stars like Antonia Banderas, Penelope Cruz and J-Lo working and talking in both languages, and the growing role of Hispanic culture in the US. I think the number of Spanish sportpeople here is an issue too – is it a coincidence that 2 of the schools are from Liverpool, where both the red and blue teams have Spanish players? We have a report out from the Commission tomorrow about languages and business, and apparently it is a big issue here in the UK – the business community often complain about the UK’s lack of language skills. I know from personal experience that having those skills was a huge advantage for working while I was at college – I did telemarketing in German and worked as receptionist at a language school and got both of those jobs because I spoke foreign languages.

By the way the salt cellar story was definitely a Euro-myth – though not a total myth. Apparently Gateshead Council came up with the idea and Rochdale are trialing it during Salt Awareness Week. The article from the Daily Mail was pretty positive about the idea, as were the vox pops they talked to. I can’t imagine it would have been like that if the suggestion had come from the EU…would you like double standards with those chips, sir?