NDSU Magazine logo - Spring 2008

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Vol. 08, No. 2


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Jessica Wagner's first trip to Europe was as a tenor saxophone player. She was 17 and a senior at New Rockford High School and that experience inspired much of what has followed. Wagner graduated from NDSU in 2007 with degrees in Spanish and French, and the very next Monday launched a translation, tutoring and language interpretation service in a Fargo business, inspired by a college course in French translation, an on-line how to book, and her own determination to do what she loves.

When I got to college is when I fell in love with language and really that's been my passion since then. I've studied languages in classes, on my own, over the internet, with people I've met and it's really kind of defined everything else I do.

I've studied twenty-three. I'm useful in seven and I work in four.

My mom says that about me, that I'm a collector. I always have been, starting with Barbie dolls. And when it came to language, it was just, well I've come this far, and Spanish makes sense. Italian is close to Spanish so let's look at Italian for a month or two, and I got to where I'm conversational in Italian. From Italian I thought well Latin's close and then from Latin to Greek and then I went back and tried Provencal which is close, sort of between French and Spanish, and then my brother had studied German so I went with that one for a while. I dated a Belgian briefly who spoke Dutch so I studied Dutch for a while.

I've looked into Swahili and Chinese and Japanese. I worked in a Chinese restaurant for a while which helped with the Mandarin.

Once I started translating and realized how much I enjoyed it, really, just the process itself of taking someone else's thoughts and making them accessible to other people and being able to use the language and my writing skills.

Our best repeat client now is a magazine in Spain. The first article I got was on the 1956 Hungarian water polo team going to the Melbourne Olympics. You can't make this kind of thing up. It was going to be published in Hungary. It is a magazine written in the south of Spain that is sent to Hungary to be translated into Hungarian and sent to the United States to be translated into English to be published in Hungary. Just a few days ago I got four more translations from them and they are about an Iraqi architect, Madonna, Walt Disney, and the U.S. political candidates. It's been the most exciting job I've had ever.

The idea of someone my age starting a business and being my own boss, being successful at it was really just laughable from the beginning but when it started to work, when our income started, when it finally tipped to where the income was higher than what we were paying out, I don't think I've ever felt anything quite so satisfying.

I fell in love with Irish years ago, but it's an incredibly difficult language for someone to try to learn without having a speaker there. Irish Gaelic, you can't say just Gaelic because there's Scot's Gaelic and Irish Gaelic, so we've just taken to calling it Irish. And so I tried to learn it on my own three or four different times starting about four years ago. This past October, I'd graduated and the business was going okay, I had a lot of time still. So I decided to start this organization, the Fargo-Moorhead Irish Language Association, the FMILA. I advertised at the colleges and in the paper and got together about eight people who would meet regularly twice a month, every other Monday night. I would bring in a short lesson. We would go over the material and then we would converse, which was amazing. It not only forced me to study and really take a close look at the material but also teaching it was an amazing tool for me to get it really engrained and I'd have people to talk with which was an added bonus. Not to mention it was a way to give back to the language community for all I've gotten from it.

I think that doing something I love, like this, is really making my life more worthwhile. I can't imagine sitting at a desk doing something that I didn't feel absolutely passionate about. I would feel as if I were wasting my time no matter how much money I was being given for it.

Why language itself is important there are so many reasons, an absolute plethora of reasons, not the least of which is that the United States is not as much of a world power anymore as it was or as it thinks it is and we need to understand our place in the world scene. I live in Fargo, North Dakota, and work with a company in Spain and Hungary and have translators in Berlin and other places - Singapore is another one of my contacts - then people need to realize that Singapore and Spain are as close as my living room computer right now. If we want our children to have the same opportunities as children growing up in Germany and China, learning three or four different languages, then we need to start following their example.

We still see ourselves as on top of the world, on top of the world's economies, diplomacies, and we're not. The rest of the world either owns us, looks down on us or is more powerful than we are. It really is to my mind an arrogance that we feel that everyone should speak English and we shouldn't make a step toward them.

The more languages you study the easier they come to you because you understand the backwardness of them, looking from an English perspective.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.