Fergal Browne

Customer Service Representative, Language: German

Previous employer Deutsche Bank

Degree BA Journalism and German (DIT)
Languages German and Spanish

The day I came back from Germany carried as much fear as it did excitement. It was mid-2010, Ireland was four months from a bailout and all anybody talked about was leaving. I seemed to be going the wrong way.

I had a degree in Journalism and German from Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). For four years I was told that journalists were being fired, not hired, and few of the 25 who graduated from the course would have a career in the field.

My language proved a saving grace. I originally disliked German and the lectures, but a third year Erasmus semester in the former East German city of Leipzig changed everything.

I fell in love with the city, made amazing friends, had unforgettable experiences and with it came a determination to learn the language and speak it well.

As soon as I finished up my degree, I went back to Leipzig and taught English on a one-year teaching programme. Again the experience was amazing and it was a difficult decision to come home, and not slug it out looking for work in Germany, but it seemed the right one.

Recruitment agency

After a few days back in Dublin, I walked into a recruitment agency more in hope than expectation. It was the first I’d gone to in my life. The recruiter took one look at my CV and said ‘well there’s not anything in Journalism, but we can certainly work with your German’.

Within a month I had a full-time Customer Services position in Deutsche Bank in Dublin. With little experience the language surely swung it in my favour. Originally, it wasn’t a German-speaking position, but with work being migrated to Ireland from Germany, the more multilingual speakers the bank had, the more flexible they could be.

I couldn’t believe my luck. My preparation to attain the position was being sociable with friends and enjoying my life as much as I could. After all, you don’t learn a language in the classroom. That provides the basics but it’s socialising with friends that loosen you up to bring out the Goethe or Bertolt Brecht in you.

Bilingual position

Even the work itself became more rewarding as a result. For the first three months I worked exclusively in English. Then, as expected, work was moved over from Germany and I was asked to move into a bilingual position speaking to customers in German and international banks in English. I didn’t shirk at taking it on.

Being surrounded by German-speakers meant I was around people who could relate to my experiences, where we could compare our countries and laugh at each others cultural intricacies. It made work so much more interesting and, of course, rewarding because this was proof my determination to speak the language was bearing fruit.

Not that it was all plain sailing though. The first phone call I fielded was from an Austrian. It shouldn’t have put me off, but the different accent and the first-time nerves meant I spent more time asking him to repeat what he was saying than I did dealing with his issue. But that just becomes another thing to look back and laugh at with the benefit of experience.

After just over a year in Deutsche Bank I regained my hope in a Journalism career and took the insecure step to go into freelancing. Nevertheless, the experiences there will stand to me and knowing I have an asset like German, which is valued by employers, allows me to take braver decisions knowing if they don’t work out, I’ll have something to fall back on.

We are told that in working life, that to gain essential skills involves hard work. There’s little of that involved in language learning though, at least in the conventional sense. Throw away your inhibitions and immerse yourself as much as you can. You get to live your life and gain an attribute employers crave. Not bad, eh?