by Claire Storey
Throughout my career, I’ve worked in many different fields with one thing in common: languages. As a recent graduate with a degree in German and Spanish, I worked as an Export Sales Assistant, liaising with agents and distributors around the world. When I started a family and chose to stay at home, I offered private tuition. As my children have grown up, I’ve retrained in translation, embarking on a fulfilling new career as a literary translator.
I know through personal experience that learning a language doesn’t necessarily lead to a single career, but can accompany you throughout your life as your circumstances change. This is one of the reasons I feel strongly about inspiring future generations of linguists. I see it as my duty as a linguist to share the benefits of learning a language with children and young people.
To that end, I have started volunteering to go into schools to talk about languages. There are different ways of getting involved, from contacting your local school directly (perhaps the one your children attend) to signing up to initiatives such as Inspiring the Future and Business Language Champions. Schools can log on to the Inspiring the Future website to find local professionals to help at events and contact them to check their availability.
Be prepared for anything
The events I have attended have all been very different. Earlier this year, I participated in a Year 8 speed-dating style event at the Long Eaton School. Groups of children rotated around the speakers, including representatives of the RAF, East Midlands Airport and Novotel Hotel Group, who were there to help convince children to take a language at GCSE. It was a great opportunity to showcase the variety of roles within the field of languages. The teacher who coordinated the event, Ann-Marie Carman, concluded: “It is so important that students like ours meet people like yourselves as much as possible. They get to hear about so many real experiences from real people!”
Not all volunteering opportunities are specifically language events, and I was asked to attend a Year 10 Business Studies session about entrepreneurs at the same school. Never having considered myself to be an entrepreneur, I wasn’t sure what I would have to contribute. The children had questions they needed to answer as part of their GCSE coursework, which the school provided in advance so I could prepare my answers. They dealt with the purposes, activities and aims of my business, market research, and external and internal factors impacting on my business. It was useful to share this information with the pupils and also to have that personal reflection on my working practices. As Carman noted: “The students are much more open to taking on board what visiting speakers have to say. It definitely helps broaden their horizons.” I was impressed by how engaged the students were, with one even emailing me for more information to include in her coursework.
One aspect that I have found to be key is knowing who you are presenting to and preparing accordingly. When I signed up to the new Our Future – Derby initiative, which aims to inspire children and connect primary schools across Derby, I knew my intended audience would be very different from participants at the previous events I had done. Supported by a partnership of organisations, including Education and Employers, Learn by Design and East Midlands Chamber, the programme follows research by Education and Employers last year, which revealed that “children as young as six had already decided what careers they could or could not do in the future. This was influenced by who they know and what they see on TV, with only 1% having the chance to be inspired by someone visiting their school.”
The pupils at St James’ Junior School in inner-city Derby were not only younger than the students I had worked with before, but also more culturally diverse. To find out more about the audience, I contacted Lauren Croll of Learn by Design, which was delivering the Career Aspirations event. I learnt that I would be talking to Year 5 (ages 9-10) and that the school had a large Asian and Eastern European population, as well as discovering some of the main languages spoken in the school.
The event was not language-specific and the day started with a whole school assembly. Pupils were encouraged to ask me and the two other volunteers questions to try to guess our jobs. To help them, we had each been asked to bring a prop to present halfway through the activity. Standing in front of a hall full of children and wondering what questions I would be asked was a little nerve-racking, but it was a great exercise and the children were really engaged. Thanks to my German-English dictionary, it didn’t take long for the pupils to work out my profession.
I was then guided to a classroom to talk in more depth to Year 5. It was up to me how to interact with the kids, and rather than concentrating on the idea of learning a new foreign language, I decided to focus on the language skills many of the pupils already had; we counted at least 14 languages across the three classes. I didn’t want to concentrate too much on any one profession within the field of languages, instead offering a wider insight into a life with languages.
I wanted the examples to be relevant to 9- and 10-year-olds, so as we talked about business communications I introduced Babybel cheese and Haribo sweets. When we moved on to talk about translation, we discussed the Harry Potter books and films, and I played the edited version of ‘Let It Go’ from Disney’s Frozen, which combines 25 languages. The kids loved watching this mash-up, with some of them suddenly realising it was in ‘their language’. We also discussed interpreting and I showed the children a job post looking for interpreters in Derby that listed the in-demand languages as many of the ones spoken by those sitting on the carpet in front of me.
I have found volunteering in schools to be really rewarding and I am encouraged to continue to do so by the comments from St James’ Junior’s Head Teacher, Daniel Walls: “Children are often inspired by their parents so if the parents don’t work, the child often believes they won’t work either. In this area, a lot of children have aspirations to drive taxis or work in takeaways or restaurants. That’s fine if that’s what you truly want to do. It’s our job in schools to raise their ambitions – and careers week/aspirations week definitely helps.”
Claire Storey MCIL is a literary translator based in the UK. She works from German and Spanish into English and has a particular passion for children’s books. Claire also works as a private tutor for the University of the Third Age and runs a fortnightly Spanish group for toddlers.