The Linguist

The Linguist 61-Winter2022

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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@CIOL_Linguists WINTER 2022 The Linguist 35 INSTITUTE MATTERS Am I sent and selected to do these things because I'm a linguist? Probably not. But those additional skills have definitely played a part in being selected for certain events. It's an extra capability that people really like. Broadcast journalism is a brutal industry, particularly as a freelancer. You are highly dispensable as the supply is far, far greater than the demand. Having a language string to my bow has genuinely set me apart. So has there been a special moment that your languages made possible? Yes. Several. One highlight was interviewing a Togolese footballer who was shot on his way to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010. The tournament was being held in Angola and the team had decided, for financial reasons, to go overland. Tragically the bus was attacked and three people were killed. The goalkeeper was shot twice. I interviewed him several months later when he was still recovering. He wanted to tell his story but he had two conditions: 1) he didn't want to be interviewed live, and 2) he wanted to be interviewed in French – his second language – as he didn't feel confident in English. I went to Brittany, where he was based, and spent a day with him. It was one of the most moving days of my life – and the interview was possible only because I could do it in French. Another nice example was back in the days when I covered football on a regular basis and used to interview Arsène Wenger, the former Arsenal manager. Every Friday, before the big match on Saturday, he would do a general press conference. Then there would be a TV huddle and a radio huddle. At the time I was working for the BBC and a couple of French radio stations. I would ask my two or three questions allowed in English, and stay behind to do two or three more in French. I was the only one left in the room with him at the end doing the French, so we got to know each other professionally pretty well. I think he quite enjoyed that and was a little more generous with his answers as a result. I spend a lot of time in press conferences with major sports stars on the top table. There are usually different sections in different languages, and being able to stay beyond the English questions – for the questions in French or German or Spanish – gives greater insights. I bet you get a different quality quote… Yes, exactly. Many times I've come away from the press conference, filed something on TV or radio, and a colleague has messaged me saying: "I was in that press conference, so where did you get that from Roger Federer? He never said that!" And I've said: "He did, but it was in German after you'd left the room…" Great example! I know you speak at schools all the time, but what 'secret sauce' would you recommend to hook a younger person on languages? I don't think there's a magic bullet. One thing I hear in schools is when young people have a sense of what they want to be – a doctor or a lawyer, say – and feel they can't fit languages in, even if they quite enjoy them. So my answer is to not see language as an either/or; to see it as extra. Imagine being a Spanish-speaking doctor, a French-speaking lawyer or a German-speaking architect! You become much more interesting and employable, and you have lots more career and life options. One final question, Chris: what do your colleagues make of your languages? Well, I'm by no means the only broadcaster to have a language background, but I do have a bit of a reputation as the pronunciation police! That's the great thing about having ability in different languages: even if you're broadcasting in your mother tongue, you have a greater appreciation of what your words mean and how they will be understood – especially for an international audience. Languages are such an asset in life. Chris lives in London and speaks regularly in schools about the value of languages. See more about his work at

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