Ellen MacArthur: My career in languages

By Louise Tickle, Sunday, 1st September 2013 | 0 comments

Ellen MacArthur discovered the importance and value of speaking an additional language when she spent three months in France preparing to cross the Atlantic. 

"I studied French and German at school, though only to GCSE. I was hoping to become a vet, so languages weren't vital to progressing on to study that at university. However, the course of my career changed and just three years after leaving school I found myself in France, preparing to cross the Atlantic in a French race competing against French sailors.

I spent three months in France in the summer during the build up to the race, and over the first few months learned to speak the language to the extent that I could communicate what I needed to as I prepared to cross the start line. I had to repair a boat there and was working in a boatyard where nobody spoke English – you learn very fast when you absolutely need to in order to get a job done. All the briefings in the run up to the race, including the rule book, were in French. And once at sea, all the weather reports, the various boats' positions in the fleet, every piece of information I needed to compete effectively were in French – so you could say that my life depended on understanding the language. I was certainly able to be more competitive in the race as a result of speaking French - the experience was a great immersion.

I'm now fluent, though having learnt the language almost entirely by ear while living in the country my written French is terrible. I can present in French both on the topic of sailing, which I did for many years, but more recently my conversations and presentations are around the subject of economics and are linked to the work of my foundation – the Ellen MacArthur Foundation."

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