One of the best things about my current habitat, Brighton, is the dynamism and creativity that seems to fill the air here like oxygen. More and more artists and innovators are drawn here every year, and it is steadily gaining a reputation as a UK hub for digital start-ups, with sector-related meet-ups and happening events every other night of the week.
Last Wednesday, I managed to squeeze two such events into one evening. The first was organised by the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton, an initiative led by Coast to Capital LEP in collaboration with the University of Brighton and Wired Sussex to deliver a range of innovative projects designed to be accessible to start-ups and SMEs.
This event was part of a series called ‘Tech Beyond the Screen’, which looks at the opportunities and challenges that will arise as digital technologies move from screen-based devices to becoming embedded in the real world.
Due to my later engagement, I was only able to stay for the first talk, delivered by Shane Mitchell, “a business strategist focused on the market applications of technology, future of cities, communities and global innovation networks.” One of the things that most caught my attention about his presentation was this slide he reproduced from the KPCB internet trends report.
As we can see clearly, there is still plenty of room for the internet to impact on the public sector, including education. As a translator and former language teacher, it got me thinking, what kind of innovation would I find useful in language education? There is already a lot going on, with a host of free and commercial apps to choose from, including DuoLingo, Memrise, and Babbel.
However, most of them stop at fairly basic, functional levels. You might finish a course able to carry out a conversation with someone in the foreign language, read the newspapers and understand the fundamentals of its grammar. However, I know from experience that students tend to plateau once they reach Advanced Level. They’ve learnt all the grammar, have a large functional vocabulary, can manage complex sentences and express themselves clearly in spoken and written language.
In short, they have professional proficiency. But most of them will still make mistakes, albeit small ones. Even more will sound obviously foreign through their choice of words and sentence structure. Very few will ever write English with complete naturalness and fluidity. And even when they can write well, it is usually only in a narrow field with set phrases and vocabulary, for example, a technical report or query e-mail. This is why it is always recommended to find a translator who translates into their native language.
Writing well is a difficult skill to master, even in your native language, and a depressing number of students enter university with only a vague notion of proper punctuation and principles of good style. (Though some of the linguistic poverty of their essays may have been a product of a severe hangover rather than a functioning brain.)
My own Spanish and French writing skills are nothing to write home about (bad joke intended). So for me, then, some kind of app or online language course that teaches you to excel at foreign language writing would be extremely useful. On a more basic level, it might provide sample structures for writing business e-mails and reports, or allow you to choose from a database of set phrases. Even better, it could analyse your piece of writing, highlighting common ‘direct translation’ mistakes and providing a better alternative. Unfortunately, as I’ve written in a previous post, once computers get really good at translating routine texts, many translators will find themselves out of a job! That’s why I plan on staying creative.
The second event I attended was a relatively new networking group called Brighton Digital Women. It was founded by Rachel Finch, Lana Burgess and Alice Still to bring together women working in digital marketing and related disciplines. With the digital tech industry still being heavily male-dominated (for reasons nicely laid out this infographic on the BDW website), the purpose of the group is to inspire and empower women to forge successful careers in digital and thus close the gender gap. It is also an opportunity to share ideas and experiences – and being pro-diversity, men aren’t excluded from attending!
There were about 16 people there, (including two men), with the discussion centring around digital mentors – seasoned professionals we could invite to speak about different aspects of the industry. It was inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by a group of independent-minded, entrepreneurial and creative women, and the group’s increasing visibility will hopefully encourage more women to enter the digital sector and add their own unique perspectives to our rapidly changing technological environment.