Notes: Spacecraft Operations Engineer, European Space Agency
My name is Adam Williams. I am a Spacecraft Operations Engineer working for the European Space Agency on the ExoMars mission, whose goal is to send a robotic vehicle to Mars to try and find evidence of past or present life on Mars. I am based at ESA's control centre, in Darmstadt, Germany.
As well as English, have you learned, or do you speak, any other languages?
I learnt French at school. I learnt German in several evening classes when we moved to Germany 25 years ago.
Do you get the opportunity to go abroad as part of your job? If so, how do you communicate with people when you are there?
I travel regularly to Russia (ExoMars is being developed in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency) and to Italy (the home of the ExoMars Rover control centre).
In Russia, I have to rely fully on interpreters to communicate with my Russia colleagues. A few years ago I had some Russian lessons, but not sufficient to have a detailed conversation.
All my Italian colleagues speak English, but I have recently started an on-line Italian course so that I can at least have some conversations with them in their mother tongue.
Why do you think it is important to be able to speak other languages?
You never know when you might need to be able to speak another language. I would never have predicted that I would end up living in Germany and France (where we lived from 2009 to 2012). Although I didn't speak a word of German when we moved here, we would not have felt confident enough to move to France if I had not already spoken some French.
Also, people really appreciate you attempting to speak their language (even if after a while they revert to English to have a more meaningful dialogue!).
Which language or languages have you found useful in your field of work?
French and German have both been very useful to me. As I mentioned above, some Italian would be helpful for me at the moment, and also Russian.
The European Space Agency is a very international community, and even if the working language is English, you can hear people speaking many other languages (e.g. Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Dutch) almost every day.
Do you have a message to share about the importance and the benefits of language learning?
Learning another language enables you to have a more meaningful relationship with other people. It also opens up opportunities that might otherwise be closed to you.
It also gives you a sense of achievement (Whenever I succeed in dealing - in German - with some aspect of German bureaucracy, I get a buzz!).
Return to Job Profiles