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“Young people learning languages won’t have the chances I had”

NowWeKnow reader Katie Roskams owes her translating career to the EU and feels desperately sorry for a generation who won’t have the same opportunities to learn languages

When I was 17, I realised that I wanted to work with languages, and that’s really been my whole life ever since.

I almost took it for granted that I could have a year abroad during my university course and receive both a salary and an Erasmus grant. Splitting the year abroad between rural northwest Germany and Amsterdam was challenging at times for a shy young student like me, but also an incredibly valuable experience that I now wouldn’t change for the world. Even though I’d been studying German and Dutch for years, I didn’t feel I’d become properly fluent in the languages until I’d lived abroad and used them each day.

It was during this time that I properly understood the benefits of Britain’s EU membership. Not only was the Erasmus grant available to all students, not just language students, but when I had a couple of inevitable and minor cycling accidents, I could get healthcare abroad just as easily as in the UK, thanks to the EHIC card.

The admin side of things was by no means the only positive aspect of the experience – if I meet German and Dutch people now, we have common ground and can compare notes on all sorts of things, including but not limited to delicious traditional treats like stroopwafels and Butterkuchen.


I’ve built my career in the language industry and am now self-employed, which was my main career goal. I love my job. Not only the freedom it provides, but also the fact that I use all three of my main languages each day, both in my translations and in emailing clients based abroad.

Last year, I started learning Irish, with lessons part-subsidised by the Irish government. When I crossed the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic over the summer, I found myself wondering what would happen here if Brexit goes ahead. The lack of a clear plan worries me, and I’m concerned by the risk that tensions will continue to rise.

When it comes down to it, I owe my career to the EU, and the same applies to many others in a range of different sectors, not just the language industry. I worry about the future security of my job while feeling desperately sorry for younger people interested in learning languages who may not be given the same opportunities I was afforded.

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