working with languages



Espionage came to Oundle School last Tuesday as BLC were proud to co-host ‘The Word is not Enough’ with our friends from GCHQ.


GCHQ languages event the word is not enough


10 teams took part. Befitting the secret nature of the task at hand, students were known only by their first names and represented sections from 001 – 010 – no fancy team names today.


students participating in the Word is not Enough



Tasked with cracking a drug smuggling ring in about 3 hours(!), the participating students faced encryption and decryption, coded audio messages, an introduction to a new foreign language and the kidnapping of their teachers (some were more bothered by this than others). Perhaps even more stressful was a 4 minute presentation of their findings to a panel of judges.


GCHQ languages event


One of the GCHQ representatives remarked that the reason he enjoys this challenge so much is because it truly represents much of the work that GCHQ linguists undertake, albeit with a swifter resolution than is usual. It also provides yet more proof, for those who need it, that the world of languages is a dynamic and exciting one, opening up careers in many fields beyond the traditionally cited ones of teaching and translation.


GCHQ languages event


All 60 students worked extremely hard, facing the tough challenges that were thrown at them with initiative, persistence and good humour. But every competition must have a victor, and the winners of a trip to Bletchley Park, kindly donated by GCHQ, were Birkdale School in Sheffield, with the runners-up coming from Oundle School.


The Word is not Enough winners


A final thought for you…is it pure coincidence that both times we have run this event, the winning team has been Section 007, or does someone out there know something we don’t…???


It’s a funny old debate, this science vs humanities one. And now Mary Beard is weighing in. Her June 11th blog for the TLS bemoans the fact that of the 12 regius chairs created in the UK to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday, not one has been in the humanities or the social sciences. It’s not that she in any way begrudges the chairs that have been awarded to the sciences, but rather it feels to her as though humanities have been side-lined into the ornamental category, not a valued part of our thrusting, digital, ‘modern’ economy.

Students enjoy our International Space ChallengeSimilarly, there has, for some time, been concern within the languages community who feel that the entirely justifiable promotion of the STEM subjects through big, high profile campaigns has been to the detriment of humanities generally, and particularly languages. Sometimes it’s hard not to agree.

My daughter has just finished her GCSEs and has been choosing A levels. She is the only person in her sixth form to elect to continue with two modern foreign languages, Spanish and German. (Take up of languages at her school is generally rather low, despite excellent teaching staff.) But she is also continuing on with maths. Very many of her cohort has chosen to continue with 3 sciences at A level plus maths. She has asked several of them why they have made this choice. Some have a clear idea – a career in engineering or medicine, for example. Some, though, are taking them with a heavy heart, with the vague idea that they are ‘useful’ and will lead to well-paid jobs. Often parental pressure is at play.

I have two rather strong objections to this. Firstly, the notion that sciences are useful and languages are not. A quick Google search confirms my suspicions: the ability to speak English, Spanish and German fluently enables you to communicate with around 13% of the world’s population (vs 5.5% if you only have English) which includes 4 out of the 10 largest economies in the world. Can someone please explain to me why that will not be useful? And then there are the cultural implications. The study of a language usually entails going to live in another country, which, in turn, entails a greater understanding of the people – who they are, why they have the values they do, their history, their literature, their religion. It’s pretty self-evident in today’s global society why this is useful. If you have to ask, then you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog.

It’s clearly a total cul-de-sac of an argument to suggest that one body of subjects is more valuable or useful than another. Well taught, both will give you a high level of knowledge and each will bring you ancillary skills such as reasoning, research, communication, attention to detail – the list goes on.

Secondly, I find it altogether depressing that children from the age of 16 are being encouraged to study subjects that they don’t even necessarily like. Education is about so much more than being able to get a job at the end of it all, like some kind of awful, inexorable conveyor belt. What happened to the love or learning, education for education’s sake? Loving what you do is key to fulfilment in later years. You spend too much time at work to be miserable doing it.

But, in any case, STEM and languages are not mutually exclusive. I love the Renaissance ideal of a well-rounded education, the passion for learning which encouraged people of that age to develop their abilities in all areas of accomplishment: intellectual, artistic, social and physical. Man was considered limitless in his capacities for development, and thus should try to embrace all knowledge. (My thanks go to the polymaths at Wiki for pulling this together so succinctly for me!).

At BLC our events aim to showcase as many different options as possible. As well as discussing straight language learning, including ab initio at university, we also create events that combine languages with business, journalism, espionage (!) and, of course, STEM. So we have been delighted to work closely with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the National Space Centre in Leicester to come up with an activity day that combines languages with physics, maths, engineering and architecture, all in one harmonious bundle. We have called this our International Space Challenge and we would love to share the resources we have created with you so you can run your own languages and STEM day. Please contact us today for more information.

In the final post from our series of blogs by Professional Translator Luisa Kearney we share Luisa’s view of life as a translator:


“Since moving to Bulgaria, I have always been involved with translating and interpreting and it was always something that I loved to do. In some ways, having had experience working as a translator and a language teacher, I see numerous similarities between being a translator and being an English language teacher. Both roles are similar in the way that you are helping people, either by teaching your students a new language or by helping your clients understand a language that they cannot understand and therefore assist them with being able to communicate with ease, despite the language barrier.


My teaching career ended after two years in the field because I had been lucky enough to work with more or less every age group possible during my time as a teacher – from babies from as young as 8 months old to adults of 64 years old starting evening classes. I continued to receive translation tasks from various acquaintances I had met during my time living in Bulgaria and so I decided to make translating my full-time job, as translating was really my true interest and passion. So I took the plunge and put all my energy into developing a business and career as a freelance translator.


Now, a few years on I am still working as a freelance Bulgarian to English translator and am very happy with my chosen career. Since becoming a translator, I have became a member of the ITI organisation, joined online translation job databases and now work with both direct clients and agencies. Working as a translator is very enjoyable and it can be very interesting too. It is always very rewarding to have done a good job on a project and to know that you have made your clients happy too. Translation is more than just translating one language to another word for word, as it requires knowledge and experience of culture and language at the same time so that you can relay the message naturally so that it reads well in the language it is being translated into (aka the target text).


To sum up, I think the subject field of languages is a broad and developing area, not to mention important. When you really think about it, there are many ways in which you can use a language because languages are all around us all of the time. In addition, one of the best things about pursuing an interest or career in languages is that you can combine your language skills with something else you are interested in too. For example, you could become a bilingual member of a sports team or fashion company… the list and number of opportunities are endless! Not only can you pursue careers with the knowledge of languages, but you can also learn so much by communicating with people who speak your second language as their native language. No matter how young or old you are, it always looks impressive when you can write that you have knowledge of or experience with languages on your CV!”
Luisa Kearney is CEO of Best Online Translator


In the second part of our series of blogs from Luisa Kearney – CEO of Best Online Translator and Associate Member of the ITI – Luisa shares her view that there are endless opportunities when it comes to working with languages.


“In the beginning of my life in Bulgaria, the thought of practicing my language skills was frightening and although I was able to understand and translate Bulgarian into English, I was very shy when it came to speaking the language to native Bulgarians. This is because it was new to me and it felt uncomfortable because I had never in my life spoken to anybody in a language that was their native language but not my own. Gradually, I became more confident at speaking. However, making friends was difficult for me because despite being able to communicate with people, finding people to communicate with in the rural area where I was living at the time was difficult. There were people that I could speak to but not as many as there were in a busier area.


After living in Bulgaria for just a couple of months, through some of the people I had met in the village where I lived at the time, I was offered the chance to do some conversational classes in English at an English language school in one of the nearby towns. I accepted the offer immediately and would do classes of between 3 and 6 hours per week. I had just turned 16 years old at the time and was incredibly pleased that, despite the fact I had no qualifications in teaching English as a second language or any previous experience in teaching English, I was getting paid reasonable money to simply talk and ask questions to different classes of English students of a similar age to me (or younger). I never stopped practicing and perfecting my Bulgarian language and would use my skills on frequent translation projects that I was given by fellow expats in the area and by people who wanted a native English speaker to translate a Bulgarian text in to English for them. I also did some part-time interpreting work too, but at the same time I loved working at the English school as well.


By the end of my first year in Bulgaria and almost a year after I had originally started working as an English language teacher, I trained on the job and took a TEFL course. I started working more hours as an ESL teacher. Due to the fact that British English is my native language, I was given many exciting new opportunities, such as:


  • Getting involved in ‘Baby English’ classes where a colleague and I played with babies of around 8 months old whilst constantly speaking in English to them in the hope that they would begin to grasp English in the same way that they were starting to learn their native language – Bulgarian.
  • I recorded part of a radio advertisement (on Bulgarian radio) for the English school that I worked at, advertising that I was a native English speaker working at the school, something of which is important to foreign language learners.
  • Whilst working at the same school I was given permission by my boss to set up a regular Saturday morning club called ‘Only in English’ where children would come and take part in creative activities , such as drama which was a new topic for Bulgarian schools, whilst only speaking and practicing their English. Before each session I would learn a simple, new and fun activity that I could share with the children, such as face painting, role play, origami, dance and much more. The club was a huge hit and enabled the children to learn and develop a richer vocabulary of English in a more enjoyable way.
  • I also recorded audio materials for an online distance learning English course and edited the written materials for the course too.

Many of these opportunities were a result of me being a native English speaker but the fact that I spoke Bulgarian as well, differentiated me from a lot of the other non-Bulgarian people who lived in the area”
Luisa Kearney is CEO of Best Online Translator


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