Byline: RUTH LING
Ben Tobias, 24, of Islington, is a researcher and programme assistant with the Russian Service at the BBC World Service. He says: DURING MY gap year, I spent five months working on a kibbutz in Israel and was surprised to find loads of Russians there. But they were equally surprised to find a Russianspeaking English teenager among them. At 15, when I was at Latymer School in Edmonton, I'd had to choose between French and Russian and I thought Russian sounded cool, so I studied that.
I quickly became very interested in the country and the culture as well as the language and literature and went on to do A-level, which included a couple of exchange trips to Belarus, and then a BA in Russian with linguistics at Leeds University.
In my second year, I studied at Moscow State University and lived with a Russian family in their apartment. I wasn't fluent when I arrived, but it didn't take long to learn what I needed to get by - which was helped by sitting up late at night with my host family's father, drinking and talking about philosophy.
After graduating, I signed up with a multilingual recruitment agency, but they couldn't place someone with Russian, so I just did basic admin temp work. Then I got lucky. Last summer, I did a week's work experience with the Russian Service at the BBC World Service, and they kept offering me casual shifts until this July, when I was given a permanent contract as researcher and programme assistant on news and current affairs radio programmes.
The job entails researching sound clips in the BBC archives (say, of Tony Blair commenting on something), recording all the material for the programme, such as voiceovers into Russian of the sound clips, receiving pieces from outside contributors and mixing them with sound effects.
If I'm doing the current affairs programme, London View, which goes out in Russian from 5-6pm Moscow time, I am studio producer as well, making sure everything runs on time and getting the interviewees on the phone and ready.
I've also written a few scripts about sport and have even been on the radio myself a few times, but only ever in Russian!
Depending on shifts, about six out of 10 of our team are Russians, so our working language is usually Russian.
Sometimes the morning editorial meeting is in English, sometimes in Russian. And sometimes people will start a sentence in one language and finish it in the other. We're all very friendly and often drink together.
Almost everyone has a degree these days, but a language is an additional skill and what it offers is easily understood. But it would be useful if I had another language. I nearly applied to MI5, but they required French or German too. Within a few years, though, I think it will be more useful to have Chinese, Arabic or Russian, languages for increasingly powerful regions but where English is less widely spoken.
The defining moment for my command of Russian came when I was teaching football at a children's summer camp near Moscow two years ago, and I was asked to explain the offside rule to a group of 10-year-old girls. I'm not convinced I managed it!
Nicole Pitman, 26, of Putney, has a BA (Hons) in German and is strategic account manager for an IT sales company. She says: I'VE ALWAYS been passionate about languages so I did a fouryear course in German with European Studies at Nottingham Trent university, with Dutch and Italian as well.
I spent the third year in Essen, working for a training and translation company, teaching both conversational and business English to people at all levels, from managers to tiny children. After a year there, I felt very confident speaking German and received a distinction in spoken German and the prize for my year.
My first job after graduating was selling IT products by phone to Germany and Austria. …