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Our September 2022 Event: What Makes a Language Professional?

On Friday 30th September, language professionals once again came together on Zoom, this time for an open discussion that would question their own identity. Yes, this month’s topic was on ‘what makes a language professional?’

The event started with a warm welcome from host Gabriella Ferenczi, followed by a mini-presentation outlining the topic. This included interactive questions to engage the attendees, starting off simply by asking everyone in the call what they do as their profession.

This variety of answers gave a fantastic basis for our discussion, as we had a range of professions to give us their unique input and their experiences within the industry. Participants were then polled on how they would categorise their own profession – leading to a range of different results.

Everyone in the call considered themselves to be a language professional, but not everyone fulfilled the other categories that one may consider to be a part of being a language professional. This led perfectly into our main group discussion of ‘what makes a language professional?’

This question immediately prompted another question ‘why do we need to know?’ An interesting point, to which it was suggested that it’s important to be including and not to gatekeep, as well as to build an understanding of just how many language professions there are, and how wide of a field it is.

What Makes a Professional?

The discussion then moved on to talking about the general idea of what makes someone a professional. For example, does someone need a qualification to be a professional in a given field? On the flip side, if someone has a qualification but doesn’t use it, does that still make them a professional? How important are outside bodies in qualifying someone as a professional? It started to become clear that each question was leading to more questions.

The general consensus seemed to be that qualifications can be important in demonstrating that someone is capable of upholding the standards of a given profession, but they aren’t everything, and someone without an official qualification could still be as competent and professional as someone with one. This may also depend on the discipline in question.

What Makes a Language?

Having broken down the ‘professional’ aspect of a language professional, it was time to discuss the ‘language’ aspect. This led to many thought-provoking points. Is coding a language? Is music a language? Once again, this led to more questions than answers.

To get us back on track, we began to discuss linguistics. More specifically, is a linguist someone who speaks multiple languages or can it be someone who has studied just one language extensively? To this, most participants seemed to be in agreement that you can study just one language extensively and still be a linguist.

Our Conclusion

So what does make a language professional? We would likely all consider a language teacher to fall into this category, for example, but what about a copywriter? Some participants seemed unsure at first, but started to come around to the idea of a copywriter being a language professional. After all, they work closely with a language as a key aspect of their job. However, there will always be professions that will come down to personal distinction. Is a font designer a language professional? If coding is a language, is a coder a language professional?

In the end, we can’t claim to have conclusively defined a ‘language professional’ as this will always be down to individual interpretation. However, by reiterating the importance of inclusion and keeping an open mind, we can continue to build a welcoming and friendly community, allowing us to keep having these thought-provoking discussions.

Any further thoughts and ideas on what makes a language professional? Leave a comment below and let’s continue the conversation there.

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