407. Reflections on Language Learning & Working as a Translator: Interview with Kristina from Russia, Winner of the LEP Anecdote Competition 2016

In this episode you’ll hear me talking to Kristina from Russia, the winner of the LEP anecdote competition this year. We talk about her work as a translator and interpreter, her reflections on language learning, how she learned English to a good level and some other bits and pieces.

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Introduction transcript

Hello! Welcome back to the podcast. In this episode I am talking to Kristina from Russia. If you’ve heard episode 403 of this podcast you’ll know that she is a listener who won my anecdote competition this year. Her anecdote was about how she ended up having to interpret for Emir Kusturica – the famous Serbian film director, on stage at a film festival in front of an audience of movie industry people with absolutely no preparation.

It sounded stressful and it’s also impressive that she managed to get through the whole thing successfully, without running screaming from the building.

Kristina’s story was the clear winner in the final round of the competition. It was interesting to hear about how she described that stressful and exciting experience and how her language skills were involved. The prize for winning, as suggested by one of my podcast listeners, was to have a one-to-one Skype conversation with yours truly (that’s me).

We did that the other day. We chatted on Skype for nearly an hour, with her in Saint Petersburg and me in Paris, and I thought it might be interesting to record part of the conversation for an episode of this podcast. Kristina agreed and so, in this episode you can hear the result.

So in this episode you are going to hear Kristina talking about

  • How she became a translator and interpreter
  • The differences and challenges of those two types of work
  • How she has learned English to her current level, and some general reflections on language learning (by the way she speaks several other languages including Norwegian and German)
  • The way she maintains her level of English and how listening is an important part of that process

I think Kristina is an example of someone who has not only managed to learn English to a proficient level but has also built a career around her language abilities. It was lovely to speak to her and I hope you enjoy listening our conversation.

So, without any further ado, here is Kristina from Russia, the winner of the LEP anecdote competition 2016.


Announcement: LEP Meeting for Conversation in Moscow

Here’s a message from a listener in Moscow called Dmitry:

Is here anybody from MOSCOW?!
A friend of mine is organizing the first MEETING of The Moscow LEPsters Conversation Club – a club for those who study English, like Luke’s podcast and want to develop speaking skills as well! Everybody is welcome on Sunday, December 11th at 4pm in the Wooden Door anti-cafe. We intend to discuss Luke’s podcast, your favorite episodes, drink tea/coffee, eat cookies, SPEAK and have fun! The meeting itself is absolutely free BUT the anticafe charges everybody 2 roubles per minute. Coffee and cookies included in this standard price. [Luke: About 1.7E per hour for free cookies and coffee? Not bad!] REGISTRATION: just send your name and several words about you (if you wish) to smartnb@mail.ru or click “I will participate” on the Facebook page
Link here: www.facebook.com/events/275649646170689/
It will be great to share emotions and ideas! See you on Sunday at 4pm!

Let me know if you’re planning an LEP Get Together in your area

If you’re planning an LEP Meeting in your area, let me know and I can spread the word!
Getting together with like-minded people and having some fun speaking English is a great idea! It can be a great way to practise speaking and you can make some friends too.


Background music (introduction): Jukedeck – create your own at http://jukedeck.com

Other background music: Jim Thompson soundcloud.com/jt-2000 and here jt2000.bandcamp.com

  • Sergio

    Hello Luke!
    It seems that lepsters communities are growing up all along the world, so I was wondering if there is anyone who is willing to practice his speaking on Skype. Yes! I would like to create a Lepster skype group…. We could create a group and organize meetings on Skype as well. I mean it would be nice to organize a pubblic meeting in a pub, as the moscovites have done but it’s much easier for me to arrange it online, on Skype. If there is anyone who want to do that, just send me a message. Thank you!

    • Hi Sergio,
      I think there’s a Skype group that exchange details in one of the forums – check the forums section of the site and you might find a thread with something like what you’re talking about.
      By the way – I’m thinking of getting rid of the forum because it’s not used very much, and it’s in the comment section where the chatting really happens. What do you (and everyone else) think?

  • Arwa

    Nice one I love your voice Kristina well done

  • Nagendren Krishna

    Hi Luke,

    I like this podcast very very much. I have been listening to you for couple years and do you know what, now I am able to understand most of the context of BBC news which was dream for me once. You do talk much about italki, I am very much comfortable with your way of teaching and especially yours voice. I will be the first one to schedule a session in italki if you are teaching. Are you there in italki, Let me know.


  • Olga Litvinchuk

    Ok, Luke, I liked this episode a lot and thank you for opportunity to have among your guests someone, who speaks Russian English like you said. Because I understood Kristina, even when she said nothing. It depends maybe on the way of thinking, on the culture, on different things and finally because we are East Slavs. We have similar languages: Russian and Belorussian. (although I don’t speak Belorussian but I try to express the idea. ) So thank for someone like Kristina. The one thing I especially like about her, she is very modest and her English is at a very high level. I see that works or worked like a translator or interpreter, because she uses ready structures in language, I mean those phrases and structures which are useful for interpreters.

    Also her experience is similar to me, because, Luke, I may disappoint you, but I’ve also done several translation of manuals in the company where I wok now. But they are useful, I swear. We for for the companies which produce clothing and they use specific kind of equipment for which sometimes there is no Russian versions. And they all need it. There are some presentations but they all in Italian or English of course. People need manuals in Russian. But Kristina’s company does a good job, I think, so I think she does a great job. But, Kristina, let be honest, working as a interpreter or writer doesn’t bring a lot of money. Also as in our country, I doubt that you do only this job:) Because, you know, who needs just person with knowledge of English or any other language. (they are in demand, but I had 16 interviews, I think I know what I say)

    Concerning the languages and polyglots: in our university there were also argues about knowledge of languages. Some linguists say that there are 6th or 7th, but let be honest, I don’t believe in it. I personally can’t believe that someone can devote all his life for languages and know 6th or 7th. There are some people in history but, you know, that they are exceptions. People have families, children, jobs, you really have to be very dedicated and devoted. Also like Kristina I studied in the university English-German, but also I had courses in Polish and Italian. But usually you have to decide for which languages you will take your time. Working as a manager-interpreter I use English and Polish. Italian I use but very (very!) rarely. I can’t express my thoughts in Italian so quickly concerning specific vocabulary. And German I remember only in Ausria and when there are some posts in vk.com in German :) So you can’t know them all at a very high level. I doubt whether can person know so many languages at a certain level, honestly. You may know some phrases and say “I speak, I don;t speak Kiswahili “, but…

    Also thanks, Kristina, that you cleared something about translation. I didn’t have theory of translation or different kinds of translation unfortunately, but anyway thank you for your experience, I’m kind of motivated now that have some plans in my future. I think that this field is mine. Learning languages is my cup of tea:)

    p.s. Sorry I have to go, so thank you again for this episode. I even sucribed it as quickly as I could, because I like it very much;)))


    • Nick

      Hi, Olga. I agree with you that a person can hardly know many languages at a certain level. I think it’s very difficult to maintain them all and improve them all at the same time.It will require a lot of time, even all the time. Most of the people doesn’t have this lucky opportunity to spend all the time just learning languages. But maybe there are people somewhere there who can learn every language in 5 minutes…but I think we should call them metahumans ;)

    • Kristina

      Hi Olga, thanks for the comment!

      In fact, I do work as a full-time technical writer now, and I used to work as a full-time translator/interpreter. Both these jobs are based entirely on my language skills. So I disagree that no one needs a person with just good English.

      Besides, I don’t think it’s possible to only be good at a language and have no other skills at all. If you’ve learned a language to a decent level, you must at least also have a good memory, analytical skills, creative thinking, ability to learn fast, open-mindedness and good communicative skills. It’s a good starting point and many employers need just that. Starting from there you can learn new things too.

      And I do think it’s possible to speak 6, 7 and more languages. Of course, it’s difficult to be equally fluent in all of them at the same time. But it all comes back with a little bit of practice, if at some point you’ve learned a language to at least the B1-B2 level. There are many good examples of polyglots like Olly Richards who prove this point quite well.

      • Also, if you learn a couple of languages you can create your own personal learning system which you can apply to the learning of other languages. I mean, learning a language gives you skills which you can transfer to the learning of another language. Perhaps the more you learn, the more you can learn.

      • Kristina

        Yes, I think once you crack your personal code to learning a language, understand in what ways you learn the best, it doesn’t really matter how many languages you learn. But then you should also figure out the ways to maintain all the languages without confusing them.

      • One thing’s for sure – I badly need to improve my French!

      • Kristina

        I think your French is better than you think ;)

      • Nick

        Maybe you should forget about English at home ;)

      • Nick

        Damn! I wish I had an English wife! :))

      • Olga Litvinchuk

        Ok, I’ve understood your point of view so let me explain mine in detail.

        You or anyone can work as a technical writer, there is no doubt but it can’t bring you a lot of money. By the word “a lot” I mean money not for only so called “minimum subsistence level”, but also for something more. Because you can’t live on money alone, buying some stuff at shop: food and clothing, you can’t pay in full housing and public utility services and so no. Maybe there are some differences in Russia, particularly in Murmansk, maybe the level of salaries is higher, but working as a technical writer, ok, in our country, in our capital Minsk or in my city Brest can’t supply you with everything that you need. For example, my friends from Minsk work as technical writers, but it’s just as an additional work, as a hobby, let’s say, because the salary for the whole day is so low, they do it only in their free time after full-time job. (they can get, let say, 150$ or less monthly). The same story is with some translations. If you work alone, it can’t bring also a lot of money, organizations or individual entrepreneurs trust translation offices which work for several years not some translators who work alone. But in these offices work students, studying in universities or after universities ;)

        So my point is that you can’t live on these money (in our country absolutely) You must be very lucky to find even a well-paid job as an interpreter. I’ve got many friends, the graduates from our faculty of foreign languages, and they tell me about their jobs, some of them don’t work using languages at all, because it can’t bring them 1) not a good salary b) not satisfaction c) this job is stressful (teacher or interpreter) so there is a huge part of them who has the so called “working off”, they studies on the money of government so they must work after graduation at schools and they get 3.000 = 153 $ maximum. Some of them work in gymnasia, so they get maybe 4.000 even 5.000 = 204$ or 255$. But is it enough for living? Especially if you have got family. No, it’s not. I don’t remember who said it but “Each successful teacher has a man who pays her for this hobby:)

        What about skills and languages: Ok, I’ve also understood. I’ve got a lot of examples among my teachers and friends: Explain me the following: how people with an excellent memory in 5 years forget languages at all, they can’t speak, they can’t write properly. They studied in universities languages, but they simply forgot it. So, for example, my teacher in German, she had the knowledge of English at a certain level, but then he graduated, she didn’t use it and then simply she couldn’t say nothing. The idea is that you must support your skills like any other. You must practice, you must take your Grammar book and just practice, do some ex-es! You can’t teach them and use rarely or don’t use at all. Learning languages is different to learning how to build a house, for example. Writing, listening and speaking, no other ways:)

        Dear Kristina, here is what each employee needs: experience, unfortunately. If his company is prestigious and earns a lot of money, he needs nothing but experienced interpreter. It depends the vacant positions “translator/ interpreter”, but if you apply for” cleaners” in some companies who produce some software, they find people with analytical skills, abilities to learn fast and so on. They needs level of English A2, B1, I think is enough.
        For me learning of language to B1, B2 isn’t enough for having the status “polyglot” really. I do believe that some linguist say so, but just think “Is it enough? Is it who you want to be?” maybe it’s will be more effective to learn 1,2 language properly. Because it takes whole your life to be specialist in one exactly sphere. Especially in languages. But also from another point of view if you’ve learned 1,2 languages so it’s easy for you to study others.
        The point also was that learning 1,2 languages and spending all your life for it much better than to know many languages but at level B1,B2.

        Anyway, I think my comment is too long so I need to sum it up:
        Learning languages is a long time-consuming process. After graduation from universities or finishing some courses you must support this skill, otherwise your language become rusty like Luke said once. So I think it is much better to study one/ two languages properly and devote your life to it.
        In our country it’s difficult to find a job using your language only and earn enough money for living.

        Thanks for a little discussion.


      • Kristina Fadeeva

        Just to clarify, I’m not saying that learning a language to B1-B2 is enough to call yourself a polyglot. What I meant is once you’ve learnt a language to at least B1-B2 you should be able to recover it after a break, for example, if you haven’t had extensive practice in that language for 2 or 3 years. Anyway, this is what I experienced with my Norwegian. It might be different for other languages.

  • Ptholome

    Hi people, The episode 407 is ready to be transcribed, SO I see so many people loving it that I am sure we will have a lot of you doing a chunk 3 mn long,