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The Language Entrepreneur - UK - 1

Using language skills as the foundation for entrepreneurship was common amongst the ELIE entrepreneurs. However, this type of activity had several distinct strands. Translation services were the most common, then teaching languages and also promoting language learning more generally through working with schools. For Dr S languages had interested her since childhood and from the age of thirteen her ambition had been to become a freelance translator. Dr S had come to the UK from Portugal for education almost 20 years ago, planning to stay for three months.

Dr S began working on computer assisted translation while in the UK and found UK facilities for computing were much better than in Portugal at that time. After some experience in this she started working for the Portuguese consulate in the city where she was living and gained many contacts through this work. Shortly after she was offered a research assistant post related to her interest in computer assisted translation and later was offered a funded PhD in the same area of work. This in turn led to a lectureship in a university, teaching on translation courses, and she very much enjoyed teaching. However, her ambition to be a freelance translator had not diminished and throughout the years she always maintained some freelance work alongside her posts in universities and had developed good networks of contacts.

An opportunity arose to lead a project to promote languages to businesses via a regional language network (RLN), based within the university and she was offered the post of leading this venture. In 2007 the funding was changed and the RLN became a limited company with some external funding but this ended in 2009. Dr S had to decide whether to close the RLN down or to streamline. She decided to streamline and had to let her team go and started working from home. After the first year she found that the business was viable and new projects could be developed. These are smaller and more focussed that when externally funded but still remain strategically focussed on the needs of businesses for language skills and signposting businesses. This type of work would lead to a conflict of interest if she was to maintain commercial translating, and as a result she does not do this work.

She also promotes Portuguese within the area and as a result of increasing numbers of Portuguese immigrants into the UK she is also working within the local Portuguese community. Many of these immigrants do not find it possible to develop adequate language skills to maintain employment and this is a problem that she is working with the Portuguese consulate to help address in terms of reducing the social exclusion of these communities. One issue is that the teaching of English to overseas students is all done in English; this makes it very difficult for the adult learners to understand what is taking place in the class, prevents them asking questions and often discourages them in continuing learning, acting as a barrier to acquiring English language skills. However, there is also a cohort of younger Portuguese migrants who arrive with higher level qualifications and these do well in the UK, able to use a range of strategies to help with learning English on arrival. 

Dr S sees her company developing through delivery of language and culture master classes, promotion of Portuguese and Spanish lessons (she already has several small classes), Portuguese writing courses and is writing a text book for teaching of translation. In addition she now has the time to develop her other interest which is fashion design. She has now developed a line of clothing and jewellery over the last five years which she is promoting through trade fairs and exhibitions such as the Great Northern Contemporary Fair.

Dr S feels there are many more possibilities in the UK to start a business. In Portugal you have to register your business, there is stigma about doing freelance work and also you have to pay tax even if you do not make any money. She also thinks that universities need to do more to prepare students in a range of disciplines for entrepreneurship. She comments that learning Shakespeare (as she did) is great but leaves you unprepared for entrepreneurship.

Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme
© 2011 ELIE Project
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.