Graduate Profiles

Jessica Barber

BA in Modern Languages

I came to Sheffield in 2010 with an A Level in French and had the opportunity to start two new languages from scratch. After choosing Spanish as my second language, I wanted my third to be something completely different but I couldn’t decide: Russian, Polish or Czech?


At the Russian and Slavonic taster session I saw that lots of people chose Russian, which made my decision slightly easier as I was looking for something that would make me stand out. At the time I didn’t know anything about Polish as a language – just that it was very difficult! And as I didn’t even know what it sounded like I asked the teacher if she would say something to me in Polish. Of course I didn’t understand a word, but I was mesmerised by how weird it sounded and thought to myself, if I could one day understand something that right now seems so impossible, then that would be a true accomplishment.

I signed up straight away and spent the first year learning basic vocabulary and grammar. After my first year I won a scholarship through the University of Sheffield to attend a three-week-long summer school in Kraków. I immediately fell in love with the place, the people and the culture so I decided to make Polish my second major language so that I could go back there on my year abroad. I lived with Polish people and spoke Polish as often as I could. The intensive language classes in Kraków brought my level from basic sentences to flowing conversations all in the space of four months and when the time came to leave I just wasn’t ready.

In my final year at Sheffield I wrote my dissertation on an aspect of Polish grammar that I was really interested in. I conducted a study and managed to get 164 Poles to take part, which – stress not included - was actually really fun! Writing a linguistic dissertation under the supervision of my tutors at Sheffield helped me to improve a lot of skills that employers really value: time management, meeting deadlines and critical analysis among many others.

Towards the end of my degree I decided that I wanted to do a Masters. However, I didn’t want my language learning to stop, which is when my tutors from the Polish department suggested that I apply for a programme in Poland. They supported me through the application process and if it weren’t for them then I wouldn’t be back in my favourite city about to start my MA in Translation and Intercultural Communication with Polish, English and French.

Now when people ask me why I chose Polish (which is an everyday occurrence!) I usually say, “I’ve got a Polish Grandmother” or, “to become a translator” to save myself the long explanation. In reality though, I wasn’t thinking about the future and I don’t have a secret Grandmother, I just really liked it. What I didn’t realise at the time was that by choosing Polish, I ended up finding a career path and gaining life experiences and the continued support from the Polish Department (even after leaving Sheffield) made it all possible.