Welocalize Talks Languages at Speak to the Future Language Ambassador Program

speak to the futureLondon-based Lena Marg is Training Manager on the Language Tools Team at Welocalize. She is a regular speaker at key localization events on the subject of language tools and MT. Lena recently took part in the “Speak to the Future” campaign, a UK initiative, backed by leading professional and business organizations who are convinced of the importance of language learning for the future. In this blog, Lena shares her experience with us.

A few months ago, the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) asked its UK-based members whether they would be willing to register as “Language Ambassadors” for the Speak to the Future campaign for languages. A Language Ambassador can receive invitations to schools in the United Kingdom to talk about the importance of languages in careers.

Foreign languages do not rank high in the UK school curriculum and many pupils opt out of them as soon as they can because they do not see the value. With a German father and Finnish mother and many school exchanges and vacations in France during my teenage years, languages have always played an important role in my life. This eventually led me to study translation and interpreting and ultimately, specialize in machine translation (MT) and pursue a career in the localization industry. I have been with Welocalize for three years now, initially as a translator and now for two years, as Training Manager in the Language Tools team, working with our enterprise MT clients

When I saw the “Speak to the Future” campaign for languages promoted through GALA, I registered straight away as this is something that is close to my heart and so important for the future of our industry.

Shortly after registering, I received a circular addressed to Language Ambassadors from the Association for Language Learning (ALL), an educational charity and subject association which supports and represents language teachers in the UK. They had been approached by a few head teachers recently, who were looking for representatives from the business world to go into their schools and talk to the pupils about the importance of language skills. One of these schools was located in Essex and as I am London-based, this was within fairly easy reach so I thought it was a great idea.

It turned out I was going to speak to two hundred 11-16 year-old students, split into five sessions. I did briefly consider pulling out, when I realized what I had signed up for as this sounded exhausting! Especially since I haven’t set foot in a school ever since I did my Abitur* and certainly not an English school.

Without looking back, off I went back to school. The sessions were part of a special Languages Day at the school, where pupils got to have a go at Spanish Flamenco, Japanese Origami, Russian, German Handball and Sign Language. In between all these activity sessions, the students joined me for 60 minutes talking about careers in languages. The kids were fantastic, extremely polite and I think I managed to get them engaged when I spoke about working in the languages industry. Of course, not all pupils were equally enthusiastic; however,  there was always a hand in the air and someone waiting with the next question.

My favorite questions were probably, “How many languages do you speak?,” “Miss, do you like your job?,” and “Which languages are most profitable?”. I tried to link the role of languages related to their own dream jobs like architect, vet, pilot, football player, banker, and generally show them the opportunities you open for yourself by the simple act of not dropping languages in school and ideally, being able to communicate, fluently, in more than one language.

I was pleased to find that many of them were familiar with the popular online translation engines, like Google Translate and Bing Translate, to help with their language homework. That will hopefully make my job of explaining machine translation easier a few years down the line!

When I showed a slide that had the word “localization” on it, I asked the audience if they had any idea what it meant. One child replied, “Does it mean to make the world seem a smaller place?” I think maybe they will have a great future in our industry.

I hope that the enthusiasm of the day will translate into more of the students keeping up their languages at school and maybe some of them even making a career out of it.  Even if it is to play football in Germany one day.



*ABITUR: Designation used in Germany, Finland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Estonia for final exams that pupils take at the end of their secondary education.