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Universal Translators: The Future’s Gift or Curse for Language Junkies?

(photo by

I’m a big Trekkie. Not so big that I’m willing to drop $5,000 to buy the Captain’s Chair weekend package for the annual Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, plus what I’d spend on a universe accurate costume, but big enough. What I love about Star Trek is that it paints a more optimistic future for the human race. One where there is no more poverty, starvation; where you can pursue any dream because there aren’t things like money or bigotry to keep you from being the best person you want to be (or at least on future Earth. Other planets are a different story). Plus there are some gorgeous alien men. The one thing that really bugs me about this adventurous, idyllic future for us terriens  is that no one has to learn a foreign language anymore. Why not? Because of a pesky thing called a universal translator.

IMG_20130330_112052_820(Proof of Trekki-ness. Here I am as Seven of Nine with Data)

The universal translator has gone through many versions. First, it was as a Hitachi Wand looking thing and part of the ship’s comm system. Then it was either an earpiece or an internal piece implanted in the brain (it isn’t too clear) à la Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Although I understand how useful it is when you meet a new species to be able to communicate with them immediately, but it always bugged me. The universal translator took away the need to learn a foreign language in the 24th century. For a foreign language junkie, this is incredibly stinky! It’s the one thing that I don’t like about the Star Trek universe. A language is so telling about a culture and it’s a key point in learning about another group of people. Using a machine to translate is never completely accurate. If you don’t believe me, try using Google Translate to see how it doesn’t work well; just make sure you don’t use it on your French homework.

trek(First incarnation of the universal translator. photo by

I’ve often wondered how many cultural nuances would be lost in translation by using a device such as the universal translator. I had almost given up on the joy of foreign language learning in the 24th century, until recently watching an episode of Enterprise. Enterprise is the last Star Trek TV series made that ran in the early 2000s. The show is supposed to be a prologue to the entire Star Trek universe. It traces the very first deep space assignment. What was a pleasant surprise in this otherwise dull show is a scene in the mess hall between the ship’s doctor and the communication officer. The communications officer (CO) was learning and practicing the doctor’s native language. He is a different species. It was a fantastic scene as she was not using the then brand new technology of the universal translator. This CO was actually speaking and making mistakes in a foreign language. It was such a joy to my inner language nerd to see this scene. It was in watching this scene that I realized why I enjoyed it so much. In the future, the solution to miscommunication is not better teaching techniques and access to native speakers, it’s to eliminate learning a foreign language altogether.

ds9crew(Different species means different language and cultures. photo by

As a foreign language enthusiast, I believe that a universal translator is a curse and not a gift to the future. I can only hope that this blog post somehow, someway gets into a database in the 22nd century and helps people realize the importance of foreign language learning in connecting with new alien people and cultures. To boldly go where no one has gone before doesn’t just refer to space travel; it can also refer to the experience of speaking new and alien languages.


Is it your university’s job to get you a job?

(Too many American college grads know this all too well. Photo by

The latest string of news stories on colleges getting richer while students are going jobless falls to Corinthian College. A few weeks ago, it was reported that Corinthian College students are going on strike and refusing to pay back their student loans. Why? Because they paid thousands of dollars to get educated so that they could get jobs, only to find themselves unemployed and in serious debt. Which has sparked the debate, what is a university’s role in finding students’ employment?

money(photo by

With the cost of college only rising in the United States (its average as of 2012 was $20,000 US Dollars per academic year or 2 semesters) and the unemployment rate of workers under 25 years old twice that of the national average, many people are left wondering why universities aren’t helping American students to get jobs. Per the Economic Policy Institute’s 2014 report, unemployment (no job) and underemployment (when a highly skilled/ educated person takes a low skill/wage earning job) are improving, but at a snail pace. Check out these numbers below.

  • For young college graduates, the unemployment rate is currently 8.5% (compared with 5.5% in 2007) and the underemployment rate is 16.8% (compared with 9.6% in 2007).
  • As of March 2014, the unemployment rate of workers under age 25 was 14.5% compared to the overall unemployment rate for the nation of 6.7%

Going back to our protesting grads at Corinthian College, I can easily understand why they’re upset. The numbers don’t look good for getting a decent paying job that will use the skills and education in which they invested lots of money to attain professional success. So, we’re back at the main question: is it the university’s job to get students a job?

The Argument for No

Ever since this story broke out, internet trolls and critics have been pouring out from every crevice. Some of the most popular backlash to this story is about the students’ refusal to not pay their loans and the belief that it is the student’s job, not that of the university, to find employment post graduation. Let’s focus on the second point that it’s a student’s job to find, well, a job. This argument about students’ responsibility for their own future reminds me of the popular Confucius quote,“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” The lesson in this expression is that is more worthwhile to teach someone how to do something themselves than to do it for them. If universities helped students to get jobs, would students be able to get a job themselves later on? Would they appreciate the job they were given? What kind of employee would a student be if he/she were given or assigned a job by the university post graduation? How is the university able to help students get employment? There aren’t concrete answers to these questions, but I was able to brainstorm a few ideas. Here’s Andrea’s interpretation of how a university could find employment for students:

  • Set up interviews with prospective employers for graduating students
  • Set up work contracts with corporations and/or local employers to guarantee employment post graduation for up to 12 months for the university’s students
  • Create more positions at the university which could employ up to a certain percentage of the graduating class

These might sound like great ideas, but there are two major problems with any suggestion like this: lack of responsibility / initiative on the part of the student and the cost. Having someone make sure you’re employed is taking the power out of your hands and putting it into someone else’s. With my first idea, it’s unclear if the university would be choosing the employers or if the employers would even be of the students’ choosing. It’s also unclear who would be choosing the type of position and if the position would be in the same field as the students’ majors. It’s a very hands off approach on the part of the student which shows a lack of responsibility and initiative. The second and third points would also allow students to not take any responsibility or initiative in their career, but with the added bonus of cost.

responsibility-1(photo by

Whenever your university has an agreement or contract with a business, money (usually lots of it) is involved. Businesses would need to benefit somehow from the second point, maybe free or discounted tuition for their children, which means that you’ll be paying more to cover those students. Wasn’t the whole point of this arrangement to benefit you?

The third idea is the most costly. Remember, your tuition covers not only your professors’ salaries, but all university employees. If more jobs were created on campus than the cost of tuition would have to exponentially increase in order to make sure that x percent of the graduating body had jobs at the university. The argument for no is strong on points about personal responsibility / autonomy and cost. But, what about the argument for yes?

The Argument for Yes

To take a line from this passionate piece by Ronald Barnett, “Shouldn’t we admit that, in the modern world, higher education is just a matter of economic investment, a means of enhancing [USA] Inc, and that’s all?” Ronald says this sarcastically in his poignant article (he doesn’t really believe this), but in the USA this statement holds some validity. Americans will often say that going to college is investing in your career, your future. And, the numbers prove it! The 2002 US Census Bureau study showed that Americans with a college education earned two times more than those without one. So, since there is some truth to American college education being an investment and not just a way to better oneself, should universities be giving students more for their investment in the way of helping them find a job post graduation? Let’s take a look at a France’s VIE program which does just that and more.

The VIE (Volontariat Internationale en Entreprise) is a program created in 2001 by the French Ministry for Foreign Trade. It’s goal is to reinforce the international development of French companies, while offering young graduates an opportunity to benefit from a [formal working] experience abroad(cite it-why is it italicized-is it a quote). How it works is French /European Union college graduates between the ages of 18 – 28 sign up to work for a French company which has a location outside of France. These graduates are young professionals looking to springboard their career and tend to be marketing, engineering, science, financial, and business majors. But, what is a little disconcerting to me is that the student, although working for a company, is under the authority of the French government during the entire length (from 6-24 months) of the VIE.

My American spirit isn’t comfortable with signing myself over to Uncle Sam just to find a job post graduation. I believe that it is my responsibility to carve out my own path in life. I also can’t help but find benefits to this experience. It just seems to make sense. France is supporting French companies and French grads by connecting them in an international environment. It seems like a win-win. Until you find out that there is that pesky cost thing. You see the benefit for the French companies taking on these grads is that they can get a tax credit. I wasn’t able to find any numbers, but a tax credit means that the company is paying less taxes than they normally would. Which means that somewhere, somehow, someone is paying for those lost taxes. And, that’s what worries me. Maybe, it’s an increase in sales tax or property tax or overall income tax. Someone is paying for it somehow. It may be a personal benefit to the student, but what about its financial impact on the rest of the country?

travel-around-the-world(photo by


As you can see in the argument for no, I was thinking very American. I was thinking of how universities could privately help students get a job post graduation. I didn’t even consider government intervention. But in the argument for yes, we discovered the public French VIE program. I’m a firm believer that American college is waaaaaay too expensive for universities to continue to have a hands off approach when it comes to job placement post graduation for students. But, I’m also not a fan of taking the responsibility away from students or having my taxes raised to create a government agency to help students get jobs. So, what do we do?

We start the conversation. Go to your university’s career center. Find out what services they offer to help students find a job. Talk to the Alumni office to find out the stats for graduates who found jobs post graduation in their desired field. Go to your university newspaper / blog committee and ask them to write an article on this subject. Organize a college night  to get students talking (don’t forget to provide pizza!). The point is students need to start talking about the role of college and how it is too damn expensive to only enhance our minds; we need a more solid guarantee of a job post college. I don’t think it means that colleges need to assign students a job or that a new government agency needs to be created, but there has to be a better solution than the current one. So, let’s start talking!



Study Abroad Alternative – Teach English in Thailand, Get on TV !

(Paris is awesome…but look at Thailand. Photo by

Studying abroad is a great opportunity that I hope every American college student takes part in, but sometimes you can find an equally engaging opportunity abroad that isn’t a study abroad. I’m talking about working and living abroad. I recently came across a casting call for Millenial Americans (that’s you!) to teach English in Thailand for a new TV show that’s coming out. This is a great opportunity to work and live abroad, to immerse into another culture, and to gain that global experience needed for today’s workforce. If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, not sure if you want to go college, or are looking for a job post college – check it out and apply! If you’re interested, check out the information below that I copied from their website’s press release. But act fast! The deadline to apply is next week.

travel(Build a network, grow as a person, gain international working experience,  immerse into another culture. Photo by



 Now Casting Young AMERICAN Millennials Who Dream of Teaching English Abroad!


Relativity Media is casting a new TV show all about young adults who are ready to plunge into a whole new lifestyle! We want to document what it’s like to pick up and move to a different country where the culture is completely different than in America. We will follow your life as you work, live, party, and explore Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Have you always been the person who dreams of experiencing different cultures rather than settling down right away with a 9-5 job and a white picket fence?

Do you feel like America doesn’t offer the kind of “fish-out-of-water” experiences you want to live out in your twenties?

Have you and your friends talked about living and working in a different country but money is holding you back?

Whether you’ve been laid off, on an endless job search, unhappy with the cookie cutter lifestyle you’ve created for yourself, can’t stand to go to one more wedding, or just feel like you’re not feeding your desire to be adventurous– we want to help you finally make the move you’ve always dreamed of!

We are now looking for young adults between the ages of 18-30 who feel that right now is the time for them to pack up their lives and move to Chiang Mai, Thailand! We will help introduce you to companies who will help you find a job as an English Teacher and also help set you up with housing.

If you are interested please send the following info to:

- Name and age

- Occupation or major

- Current City (only Americans please) and your hometown

- Phone number

- Two recent photos of just you

- Why you want to teach in Thailand/ what’s at stake in leaving?

Media Contact:

Luli Batista

Relativity Television


323-860-8974 Direct Line

Here is the official PDF for additional information.

Bonne chance!

I judged a French Contest

(Ok, so it wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea. Photo by

Last weekend I had the supreme honor of judging the Texas French Symposium – a 2 day event where Texas high school students who study French show off their French speaking skills and culture knowledge via a variety of activities to be judged. I think this is a fantastic event that every state should be doing in their foreign language program. Every level of French is tested from the beginner up to the more advanced speaker. I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with many students who were eager to learn more about studying abroad and Paris. This was my first time judging so I was pretty nervous, but the students and staff were gracious hosts who made everything as easy as pie. Watching and listening to the students do sight reading and poetry recitations made me think about different ways that I can test my French.

One of my favorite YouTubers is Emy. She is a young French woman who speaks English incredibly well and records videos of  her talking on a variety of topics (usually quite intimate) in English for the whole world to see and hear! I don’t think I’m that brave, yet, but I could definitely record myself sight reading or reciting a poem to test and better my French skills. Andrea’s tip- even when you attain an advanced level of French, you’ll still need to practice it and keep it up! What I would love to see at the contest next year is a debate section on a current issue for the advanced levels- that would be an excellent preparation for a real life French speaking scenario.

Anyhoo, being a judge at the contest was a great opportunity that I am very thankful to have had and hope to do again next year. Here’s one of the art categories (who doesn’t love sidewalk art?):


art 2