Notes: Head of Business Development
Can you give a brief outline of who you are and the job that you do?
I am the Head of Business Development for a company specialising in business process outsourcing solutions. My primary focus is within the optical industry, working with leading optical groups and optician chains to develop revenue-generating subscription and sales systems. It’s my job to build relationships and identify opportunities to expand our optical business internationally.
As well as English/your home language, what other languages have you learned/are you learning?
I am fluent in French and German and graduated with an MA (Honours) in Interpreting and Translating from Heriot-Watt University. Over the years I have ‘dabbled’ in other languages, including Russian and Greek, to conversational level.
What/who inspired you to learn languages?
I can remember the first French class I ever had – back when the first time you were exposed to languages was in secondary school – and it was something completely different. It was probably the first ‘real’ subject that exposed you interactively to the wider world and with it, came the realisation that not everyone speaks English – and I didn’t want to miss out on what the world had to offer.
Up until that point, when on holiday abroad, you would always normally find yourself where English was the first language, or a resort where English was widely spoken, so you wouldn’t even think about the local language. But from then on, I did – and it frustrated me that people could speak to me in English but I couldn’t speak back to them in their own language.
I do have to say that my teachers were absolutely fantastic at school and inspired me to keep going with languages. One teacher in particular even gave up her time to ensure I could study French and German in Sixth Year (for the old Certificate of Sixth Year Studies) after the head teacher refused to timetable it, saying it was a waste of resources.
What aspects of learning a language do you enjoy most?
The thing I really enjoy is getting underneath the skin of the language, working out how it all fits together and making sense of it all. That is probably why I like German so much, as is it so structured – from the way words are formed to the order of items in sentences. I think it also helps you appreciate your own language more.
Do you have a ‘EUREKA’ languages moment, when suddenly you realised that you were able to communicate in a language other than English?
I think that the real eureka moment came when I went to France myself for the first time. I was going to stay with my penfriend and family for two weeks, but in order to get there I had to take a couple of flights, which also involved changing airports in Paris. So there I was, trying to navigate my way round – and I did it! I was really proud of myself and it built my confidence for those next two weeks being totally submersed in French.
How do you use your language skills in your working life?
I have clients who are spread across 11 countries – some of whom are French of German speaking - so am able to use my languages on a daily basis, be working directly with the clients, or speaking with the internal teams here. Being able to speak a language is highly beneficial in a business sense as it can make meetings, especially negotiations, so much easier as the dialogue can flick between languages as appropriate.
There is also the notion that everyone in business speaks good English – which is certainly not the case, and nor should it be expected. There is nothing more awkward than being in a meeting where a participant does not understand what is going on – as people end up having to speak amongst themselves, attempting to translate what has been said, the result of which can mean that meanings are lost and discussions drift.
Not only that, but by knowing the language helps build stronger relationships - for example, you will probably get to know a client more while chatting away over a coffee than you would in an all-day meeting because you make them more at ease in their own language.
Having a languages background has also helped when working in other countries where I don’t speak the language, for example in the Scandinavian countries. Due to the Germanic roots of the languages, you can start to pick up on the meaning of words and sentences and subliminally learn as you go.
In what ways do think learning other languages has enhanced your life?
From a professional perspective, it has been a key driver. If it weren’t for languages, I would not be in the role I am in today. I initially joined business development as an account manager within the organisation to manage a German client - for which a high level of language knowledge was necessary.
Learning languages also gave me the chance to live and study abroad. In Third Year of university for example, I spent five months in Tours (France) and then five months in Leipzig (Germany) on the Erasmus exchange programme, so I lived and breathed the language and culture of the countries round the clock. It was an experience I will never forget and really does open your eyes.
Along the way I have also made some fantastic friends, whom, if it hadn’t been for my languages, I would probably never have met.
What’s your most memorable language related experience?
The most memorable would have to be winning a French game show! It was during my time at university in France when a group of us had managed to get tickets to be in the audience for the show. On the second recording of the day, I was selected from the audience to be “contestant number 3” and after a series of challenges, beat the other contestants to the top prize of 20,000 Francs and a holiday. It was an unbelievable experience, having the audience chanting “Allez Tony!” in the final round and the presenter being astonished when she found out that I wasn’t actually French. Not too bad for a guy from Scotland I suppose…
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