aston university


On 17th December, with my translation (BA) colleague, Isabelle, from Cardiff University, we headed up the train tracks to the Midlands to the Careers event at Aston University.

The day’s talks promised to offer multiple perspectives on the different kinds of jobs translators and interpreters can have. The pre-event coffee room was packed and attendance was good, our namebadges reflecting attendance from across the country – many undergraduates and also school students plus a rare few older participants.

The event was sponsored by the Routes Into Languages program. Head of Aston’s language department, Christina Schäffner kicked off proceedings with a short welcome and introduction and the event was rapidly underway. We would be looking at different areas of work plus ways of getting started in the profession.

The first hour introduced three different professional interpreters who vary in their employment. Rekha Narula gave a great presentation on working in the public service interpreting sector. The attitude of the interpreter and the professional skills they require was very interesting. There are ethical dilemmas and the rather individual, lonely work of the public service interpreter seemed very challenging. The work sounded very rewarding and valuable to society.

Cindy Schaller, a French woman interpreter, who spoke almost perfect English with hardly a detectable accent at all, spoke about conference interpreting and also how volunteering could provide valuable experience for newcomers to the industry. Cindy had done a work experience placement at the UN in Vienna and had toured Africa and a variety of other destinations, working in the voluntary sector. Cindy discussed the skills she used as a conference interpreter, from chucotage, to booth work at various levels of comfort and technology. Cindy analysed the business skills that we would require – from accounting to building a client base, to billing and working as an individual.

Cindy provided some useful web references for opportunities in the voluntary sector:

Maisy Greenwood was next on the agenda and she had an amazing adventure tale to share with us. At university she had studied arabic in addition to Spanish and French. A job landed at her feet (or rather she had to put herself in the right place at the right time). She was recruited as an interpreter for a Saudi television documentary. For two months Maisy travelled across South America, acting as a Spanish>English>Arabic interpreter. The skills she amassed were immense, from the tech experience of producing a TV program to rather complicated and daunting sounding interpreting. The cdomey moments of her having to hide out the way and also to conceal her shadow from the film were light-hearted considerations that a TV interpreter has to contend with. Maisy’s visit to Angel Falls showed us some of the final product and she explained what was actually happening behind the scenes on the shoot. The whole adventure sounded very exciting and like a dream job for a linguist.

Into the second hour and we looked at employment opportunities in large organisations.

We had two presentations from the EU commission, one from the interpreting service and one from the translation service.
The jobs looked very varied and although the selection procedure for becoming part of the EU team, the work looked very interesting and the travel opportunities, in particular, were appealing. As an interpreter the working week could see you move from Brussels to London and across to Rome. The multilingual nature of the EU and its policies for translation and interpreting, the challenges employees face: all made it seem an interesting career option. It is the biggest single employer for linguists in Europe. Specialisation in a career in languages and the important role of a lawyer-linguist was an option that made me consider the possibility of a future doing this. is the official website to discover more and to contact the EPSO (European Personnel Selection Office)

Also: Traineeships –


The Charted Institute of Linguists with its low cost fees for students seemed a very viable option I should take up

Also, the ITI, which I am already informally part of in Wales, is an important professional body for linguists.

Next, a presentation from GCHQ, the secret branch of the security services which analyses signal intelligence from its donut base in Cheltenham.
GCHQ leads the way in security work, in particular in counter-terrorism and its work requires highly-skilled linguistic specialists. It seeks language-speakers of more obscure world languages where there is a scarcity of skills in the general market. The lady who presented to us had to retrain over a seventeen month period after gaining a degree in modern languages. She was brought up to speed in Arabic which is the main language she now analyses and works in at GCHQ. The work at GCHQ looks exciting though perhaps not at the James Bond level of adventure. I am sure that it is stable employment and that linguists here feel that they are using their skills in a valuable way. I’m not sure whether spending hours analysing terrorist phone calls is exactly my cup of tea, however, and the idea of breaking most civil liberties in my work, as is being done my communication security services across the world – would be against my code of ethics, whatever excuses are made for snooping. 

The last hour looked at various career paths open to Translators with examples of work in the field.

Tom Gale was a Project Manager for a translation agency. His presentation was very official and the work seemed more or less like any other management role, in any other area of industry. The considerations a project manager has to take into account in his work seems to involve very little actual translation or language skills but lots of interpersonal and office based skills: negotiating with clients, accounts management, recruitment. It all seemed a bit mundane to me and isn’t an area I would wish to focus on.

Alina Secarā from Leeds University gave a great insight into audiovisual translation and built on the guest lecture by Jorge Díaz-Cintas I recently attended at Cardiff University. Translation without Borders was an organisation that looks interesting and can help with developing work and experience as an audiovisual translator.

The final presentation was from Silvio Ferrero, an English>Spanish translator who works in the field of video game localisation. She is a director of Medialoc. It’s a high growth market and has very specific skills. It was intriguing to see how difficult liaising with video games creators was and how little they understood about the problems translators face in adapting games for foreign markets. the consideration of word spacing alone requires quite a lot of thought.


I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Aston University and all the talks were informative and useful. As I headed off into the wet winter night of Birmingham, my overriding impressions of the day were that I would now definitely consider a career as an interpreter – working with oral translation, rather than just written  translation. The skillsets are slightly different and the opportunities different. The appeal of an interesting job with travel certainly looks good in the field of linguistics!