At age 72, looking back and having studied several foreign languages I have learned that language learning is similar to a jigsaw puzzle; learning one foreign language certainly helps when learning another. “Once you start dreaming in a foreign language it means you must have learnt it”. I was fortunate to have an Italian Professor who provided one hour tutoring before work; no books, no dictionaries, just conversation in Italian. He was a wonderful teacher and I was fortunate to have him.
In 1963, age 20, I was travelling to Italy by train to start a six month John Speak Trust Scholarship to help improve my Italian. At the time I was working for a Bradford Wool Merchants. My accommodation was provided by the Biella family who kindly allowed me to stay at their family home in Biella. Upon my arrival, I recall the cultural differences were a real shock although I found the Italian people to be very welcoming and very reassuring, this being a major factor during my first few weeks abroad. I discovered that absorbing the different culture came hand in hand with learning to speak the language. As a condition of the Scholarship, in addition to my language studies, I worked voluntarily for the largest wool combing company in Italy, Pettinatura Italiana, Vigliano Biellese. Working and living with the locals certainly improved my Italian; I learnt a lot of the local dialect and colloquial Italian too!
Upon completion of my Scholarship and now fluent in Italian, I remained in the wool trade and joined H Dawson Sons & Co (Wool) Limited in 1965 and returned to Biella, Italy in a new management role. I later became a Company Director taking on the responsibility for Dawson’s office in Italy and travelled extensively to Spain, Portugal, Middle East, Iran, Pakistan and India. My Scholarship definitely helped in my preparation for the change in career and the additional responsibilities that came alongside that.
My philosophy in life has always been to look forward, not back. The wool trade is a way of life, not just a job. I have made many wonderful friends around the world, many of whom I have revisited following my retirement. Travel in the Middle East in the 1960/70s could be lively and exciting to say the least, with many countries undergoing social conflict and political upheaval; however I found that not everything you hear and see on the news was always correct and the reality on the ground was often different.
I am also very proud to have been an active member of the John Speak Trust Committee for 25 years, 17 of which I was Chair, standing down in 2010.
Being a keen skier, I am regular visitor to Italy and have kept in contact with many friends and colleagues overseas throughout my international career. I continue to use my Italian regularly and also speak reasonable Spanish which I learnt after retiring from Dawsons in 2002. One of my passions is singing (choral music mainly) and it is an unexpected bonus to be able to sing in the above and other languages.
I am very pleased that the John Speak Trust continues to provide financial assistance to UK language students.
I would definitely recommend any students considering studying abroad and intending to go into the export (of UK goods and/or services) trade to go ahead and apply for a John Speak Scholarship.
Accepting the Scholarship was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The process is simple and uncomplicated – a no brainer!
The benefits speak for themselves. I have enjoyed a very long and successful career in the export trade and will always be grateful for the opportunities the John Speak Trust provided.