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An interview with Marie-Agnès Latourte, head of the Intercultural Communication and Translation (CIT) Master’s at ISIT. ISIT alumni, professor and translator.

CIT & Learn: What makes the CIT Master’s so special?

The CIT Master’s, like any other Master’s is constantly evolving – especially compared to other translation degrees. We introduced intercultural communication classes in 4th year to complete the translation skills that our students have (in both languages and technical writing). For six years, we carried out a market study and we realized that ISIT’s initial name (Higher Institute of Interpreting and Translation) was reductive and deadlocked so we changed it to Higher Institute of Intercultural Management and Communication. However, ISIT remains a translation and interpreting school, even if our classes are more diverse.

We pay particular attention to companies’ and graduates’ feedback. Between 30% and 50% of our students end up working in the field of translation. We wanted them to have other skills to be able to work in other sectors and to make them true project managers through the PRA and PRE projects. Sometimes, it is hard to see the point but they develop actual methods which are really useful in their business life. The PRE (Research project within a company), which is a peculiarity of the CIT Master’s, help students to fit in the company as they develop a project with their tutor or other colleagues in order to meet one of the company’s need. They become indispensible and are sometimes hire at the end of their internship.

CIT & Learn: Because of the current job crisis, schools must be particularly worried about their students’ employability. What makes CIT students desirable to recruiters?

ISIT students have specific and unique skills that they develop through internships and projects. They are versatile (they do not know only how to translate!) and easily understand the instructions they are given. Some of our students end up working in highly technical and complex working environments (Orange, Geodis, EDF, etc.). Recruiters usually like our students’ professional background: their internships and apprenticeship are much-valued. Lots of their soft skills are also appreciated: their behavior, curiosity, respect as well as intercultural skills (i.e. they know how to adapt to other cultures and people and know how to listen).

Cit & Learn: In addition to redefining classes, what is ISIT doing to help students find jobs?

First, we implemented an employability policy in which we try to involve students. We make students do internships in their 1st year, which is something new. Depending on the level of study, internships are longer or have to be done abroad. For five years, we have been working to have better relationships with the APEC (French Association for the Employment of Executives): members come to raise awareness among our students about professional careers and ways to find jobs. We also set up simulated job interviews for fourth and fifth year students with actual human resources managers who have a neutral and objective opinion on them.

We also highlight our apprenticeship programs, which is something entirely new for the Intercultural Management Master’s. Of course, there is a lot students do not see: relationships with companies (business breakfasts with potential tutors or alumni). We also encourage students to take a year off: more and more leave school to work for a year either in France or abroad. We also visit the companies our apprentices are working in: it is essential to develop a human contact between the school and their work environment.

When drawing up CVs, we realize that internships, apprenticeships and sometimes their translation thesis are essential: they are true professional skills which attract recruiters.


CIT & Learn: To you, what is the essential balance between “theoretical” and “practical” classes in order to help students find jobs?

It is an interesting question but as a linguist, the word “balance” does not seem really appropriate to me. Let’s look at a definition: “Equality of strengths between two opposing elements or the state of stability and harmony resulting” which seems more adapted. We are not looking for a power relationship: it is true that our programs are constantly evolving which is something usually unsettling for our students but, to quote Marie Mériaud-Brischoux, our headmaster, “If we do not go forward, we go backwards”. I would rather talk about complementarity. Theoretical and practical classes complete one another. Our apprentices quickly realize that: their work within their companies allow them to understand better technical classes such as XML or SQL.

CIT & Learn: What makes ISIT the perfect place to understand interculturality? What are its strengths? Do you precise examples to give us? Do you witness intercultural situations when you set up partnerships with foreign universities?

First, our professors are a perfect example of interculturality: they speak various languages, come from different cultures and as such, have different teaching methods. We also welcome lots of Erasmus and METS students. All of this makes us realize that there are different approaches to translate: languages truly reflect cultures and personalities. To quote Michel Boutaud: “a language is the beginning of a new life”. Another one his sentences, which I really like, is “learning a new language is getting a new soul”. We learn and discover a lot: it is essential to get closer to culture in its wider sense.

I went to London to set up a European partnership with the University of Westminster as part of a Long Live Term Program (two years) for the PIT program (Promoting Intercultural Competence in Translation) with Italians, Polish, English, Norwegians, etc. to introduce intercultural skills in the academic programs (which we are already doing at ISIT): we had an interesting conversation about the way we understand the word “framework”. English understand it as an open word, more like guidelines whereas Polish or Norwegians see it as something much more fixed and settled.

Frédérique de Graeve (head of the Intercultural Management Master’s): I can add an example: one of our former student used to work at  XXX and was in charge of setting up a transfer of competencies in HR to Romania: she had to go there on a regular basis to train people and facilitate the transfer. The problem was that Romanians (because of the Communist regime), did not recognize her authority: to them, there is only one chief and he had to go there himself so that they realize all the changes and training cessions to be set up.

Marie-Agnès Latourte: It is essential to understand the codes of the country we are working with in to efficient and carry out a project.

CIT & Learn: In the work environment, how it is a strength to have an intercultural expertise?

It brings a better understanding of the methods used to work in concrete projects. It helps to anticipate the reactions of the people we are working with (mails, negotiations, answers, etc. : Koreans for instance do not talk during a meeting and wait for the end to give their opinions and remarks).

Let’s take the example of an advertising campaign that Coca-Cola develop in the Persian Gulf: they did not focus enough on the countries’ communication habits. They chose the desert, which is something relevant to Arabic countries but forgot that in these countries, people read from right to left! The message was read completely backwards. As linguist, we always have to wonder how our message is going to be received.

Le message que voulait faire passer Coca Cola : boire du Coca redonne de l'énergie !
What Coca Cola wanted…

At the top, the message that Coca-Cola wanted to disseminate. At the bottom, the way it was received.

What Coca Cola got…

CIT & Learn: Throughout the years, ISIT and its programs changed to adapt to the modern world, which is faster and much more multicultural. What can you tell us about that?

If we look back to a couple years ago, we might want to talk about a revolution rather than an evolution, particularly for the CIT Master’s. We tried to adapt to companies’ and interculturality experts’ demands. There were less and less vacant positions for translators (less translation departments within companies, lower prices, etc.). We could not train 100 translators a year knowing that only 10 of them would find a job. Nowadays, this tendency is changing, particularly thanks to international organizations in which lots of translators are retiring. They are setting up huge recruiting campaigns. And let’s not forget that our Master’s went from 4 to 5 years.

In addition, we tried to develop networks with companies (apprenticeships for example) but also with schools and universities (FESIC, METS, SFT, CGE, FIT, CIUTI etc.): we open the school to the world by promoting exchanges. This year, we opened an international department headed by Marina Burke.

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ISIT website 

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