Thinking about studying German at university? Already a Germanist and wondering where your degree might take you? Last week we heard from two recent graduates – this week we find out from two more graduates about the importance of German and languages in what they have done after finishing their degrees.
Studying German at Oxford is challenging. There are no two ways about it. Or at least that’s what I found in my four years there. Sometimes I wanted to scream and cry and pull my hair out and quite frankly just pack it in when I just didn’t get it. But those years were also the best four years of my life where I got to delve into another language’s literature and discover great stories and poems, find new favourite writers (I genuinely still read Rilke’s poetry), and battle (sometimes fruitlessly!) with translations. It might sound corny but my German tutorials were also somewhere I found great friends, where we supported one another through hard times, both academic and otherwise, came out the other side, and are still going strong. I also had the chance to call Berlin my home for six of the most amazing months of my life during my year abroad. Although (sadly) I do not work in a job where I get to use my German, I do work in one where I speak and write French (the other language I toiled away at in Oxford) on a daily basis. Whilst I may not use German in my day to day life, it is my languages degree that got me where I am today. It has made me more confident, more determined and taught me to believe in myself so that I finally (and rather tardily) realised that I actually love studying, just in time to embark on another degree.
Unlike most of the other contributors to this blog, I didn’t take a degree in German. Instead I studied chemistry, though having taken German as one of my A-level subjects and with a longstanding fascination for languages, I made sure to keep developing my knowledge of German during my spare time and I was fortunate to have the option of taking a German paper as part of my Finals. This all came in rather handy when I stayed on for a doctorate and found myself working for a German academic in a field where most of the other leading researchers were also German. Although they (mostly) spoke excellent English and published their work in English, having knowledge of their own native language definitely helped me to win “brownie points” and also made networking at conferences that bit easier!
After my DPhil was over I left academia and qualified as a patent attorney, which is a fascinating crossover between the worlds of science, law, and language. Much of my work involves corresponding with the European Patent Office, which is based in Munich, to argue the merits of my own clients’ patent applications and to defend them against challenges by the Patent Office or by competitors. I also advise my clients about the validity of their own competitors’ patents and file challenges against those at the Patent Office. The three official working languages of the European patent system are English, German, and French and, while it’s not essential, it’s definitely helpful to have a working knowledge of at least two of the three. It’s very common to encounter legal, scientific, or industrial documents written in German and being able to read them without the need for a translation is a real time-saver. As part of my job I also attend oral hearings where the merits of a case are argued in person and, while I will always speak in English, I often find myself up against German attorneys who opt to work in their own native language. To be able to understand their submissions without the need for simultaneous interpretation is a definite advantage.
I should point out that having a science degree is a prerequisite to qualify as a patent attorney. However, my work also brings me into contact with barristers and solicitors specialising in intellectual property, who carry out overlapping or complementary work to my own and who are not required to have a scientific background. The closely related career of a trade mark attorney is also worth considering if you are a language student interested in a legal career and have less of a scientific bent: this is another truly international field of law, in which knowledge of more than one language is a definite asset. In addition to this, many trade mark cases can hinge on an understanding of the impression or meaning that a particular word in one language might convey to a native speaker of another, and so having a good knowledge of phonology and comparative linguistics can be extremely helpful here.
Check out next week’s blog for more insights into the paths German Studies graduates have taken! Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your studies – or maybe you learned German later in life? Let us know about your experiences and where it has taken you: comment below or send us an email!