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Classic Hetchins bicycle

A journey in language – cycling, TV, and then a degree

How social media partner Mike Gayler cycled into an Open University French degree

By Mike Gayler

I shared this story with an email contact recently and thought it might be interesting for readers of the HE Translations blog to know a little about my journey in language. It’s an unconventional tale, but I hope that you find it interesting, and, perhaps a little motivating if you’ve ‘failed’ in a skill at a younger age.  At school I had a persistent French teacher. I was an enthusiastic but clueless language student, and I failed French ‘O’ levels in both 1971 and twice in 1972!Mike and his bike

I started work for the National Health Service in the autumn of 1972 and the following summer I took my bicycle on the ferry and cycled through France for a fortnight. Being on my own, and staying in Youth Hostels it was very much a case of  “speak French or starve”! I did survive, and the following year cycled round the coast of Brittany. From that point on I was aware that I could ‘get by in French’. And ‘get by’ I did – we took family holidays to France, and I took part in many cycle-tourist events in France and Belgium where my rudimentary language skills came in very handy.

At some point in my early 50s I had a long period of illness and for reasons that still escape me, I started watching French satellite TV – and realised that “I could do this”. I also resolved that I wanted a bit of paper to prove I could ‘do’ French. My wife is a graduate of The Open University and a great advocate, so I followed her footsteps and began studies with The Open University, which ultimately led to my subsequent Humanities degree.

I would say that I was an enthusiastic, but ‘pretty average’ French student. I found the language learning hard, but the attention to the sociology, politics and history of the Francophone world fascinating.

My BA degree had no relevance to The NHS or my professional life, in which I was becoming progressively disillusioned. Once I retired from full time work as a Healthcare Manager I can’t say it has been of any direct use to me in a professional or employment capacity! But importantly, both the French and the Art History parts of my degree have increased my personal enjoyment of life, given me amazing insights into other cultures and ways of life.

My freelance work as a Representative and Social Media Partner for HE Translations does not use any of the language skills I have gained, because translation is a separate skill, and different discipline to pure language learning. I’ve learned that Translators are highly skilled at understanding the nuances of a language and a culture – and just because someone can speak a language (even to a high proficiency) does not mean that they will be a proficient translator, particularly in technical translations which require specialised skill, knowledge and experience in that sector to deliver a professional text.