Katy Attwood

Katy Attwood

Katy Attwood

Since as far back as I can remember I have always had a passion for language and languages. My mother tells a story of me ordering ice creams at the age of four in France:

“Ern fraise, ern chocolat….and I’ll have a vaneel”

At school I tried to cram in as many languages into my curriculum as possible: French, Latin, German, Spanish… the school drew the line at ancient Greek as they could simply not accommodate such a schedule.

After my A-levels, I went up to Oxford and studied Modern Languages at Jesus College.

I spent my third year teaching in Provence which is where I learnt that the French don’t actually talk in alexandrines, and nobody says ‘n’est-ce pas?’ or ‘zut alors’. Languages need to be learnt in the country where they are spoken.

In my final year at Oxford I joined the gravy train to the city and wangled a job as a trainee accountant with Deloittes (then Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu). I convinced them to take me on on their Japanese desk and told them to give me a year to learn Japanese.

I graduated and caught the next plane to Tokyo from where I travelled to a remote village in the mountains. This was to be my home for the year teaching English to children and farmers. Arriving with not one word of the Emperor’s, I quickly learnt about the pitfalls of communication difficulties. Three weeks in I was buying apples in a shop when a man approached and struck up a conversation. As I considered myself something of an expert in Japanese by that time, I readily joined in, agreeing with him about the terrible heat and how lovely and plump the apples were. It slowly dawned on me that the conversation was taking a somewhat louche direction, when I felt my bottom being….caressed. I was being chatted up by a odorous fruit farmer and it appeared I was going along with it!

They say a smile says the same in any language and that day I learnt that if I didn’t understand, I should just smile and walk slowly backwards.

By the year was out, I was fluent in Japanese and returned to the City to start my high flying job which consisted of training be an auditor in various Japanese publishing houses on Regent’s Street. I quickly realised that I wasn’t cut out to be an auditor. It requires a certain person to excel in this role and I wasn’t that person. Square peg, round hole.

So I thanked Deloittes, a fantastic company to work for, and moved to Italy. I became a tour guide based in Venice from where I would take coach loads of tourists around Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria. It was my dream job, speaking all the different languages and getting paid £10 a day for it! I learnt a lot about people too. How the last thing anyone going on a package holiday packs in their suitcase is there common sense. I realised regretfully that this career was never going to be a long term proposition. Living out of a suitcase is fine for a short time only.

After a year, I decided to get a sensible job and moved back to France, this time to Le Havre where I got a job working for France’s largest shipping company, Delmas.

My job was logistics analyst which sounds cool but in reality it mainly involved collecting up all the empty containers scattered around West Africa and bringing them back up to Europe. This was difficult because they kept getting stolen as they make fantastic houses. I had a bribery budget.

I spent a year here and learnt a lot about the shipping industry. But Le Havre is really a town one passes through as quickly as possible, the French equivalent of Grimsby. I was missing home by this point as so I moved back to Manchester.

I became a freelance interpreter working mainly with the immigration service. This period in my life taught me a lot about how hard accurate interpreting is and how in many cases it has life and death consequences. I would hear the stories from West African refugees about what had happened to them to cause them to leave home. Stories of the most horrific kind, stories of absolute horror and inhumanity. The stories went in to my head and were understood, but to speak the brutality in English to the immigration lawyer was hard. To relay the emotion, quite impossible.

I met my husband and we got married, pretty much straightaway. And we had five children whilst setting up and running a business. Employing between 30 and 50 people at any one time, I learnt the science of Pay Per Click. I love it. To be good at it requires some complementary skills. Not only must you have an analytical brain, an ability to parse mass quantities of data and a methodical discipline, you also need to understand language deeply. And I find I have all of this. It’s my dream job.

I have other interests too. I have my five little kids (the youngest are twins). I love music and play the piano and the accordion

I still love travel, communicating in different languages, reading and knitting.

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