Asking for what you don’t want

A strategy that I have become very aware of lately in professional self-presentation is that of telling an interlocutor who you are and what you want by way of talking about what you don’t (or something that you didn’t like, or were told you couldn’t have). A recent example was a student beginning a statement of purpose to a graduate program in which the student explained their decision to apply to this particular program and degree as the result of a series of conversations in which they were told why a different degree and school (the one this student really wanted) was not actually the right fit.

I deeply understand this strategy of telling us who you are by showing us who you are not.  It feels very close to lived experience, and it has, until I became aware of it, been a big part of my ways of talking about myself. For example, until I started becoming aware of this, when asked about why I became a linguist, I would often talk about a series of conversations I had with professors who told me for various reasons that I should not pursue gradate study in linguistics: that it was a dying field, that there were no jobs, that graduate study would kill my joy in the subject matter. I would talk about these interactions as a way of showing my perserverence, but I recognize now that it can smack of bitterness, or worse, leave my audience with a sense of concern about the field, or about me and my qualifications. The opportunity to talk about yourself is an opportunity to teach: about your field, about yourself, about your passion. You want your enthusiasm and confidence to be unambiguosly contagious!

And I have heard this strategy lately in spoken genres like the response to “tell me about yourself” or in “pocket examples” used in networking events, but it also proliferates in textual genres such as cover letters.

But let’s think about this strategy from a cross-cultural communication perspective for just a moment:

From the perspective of the speaker:
In my case, to talk about why I pursued a field that I had been advised against is to show my interlocutor that I have true commitment, perserverence. I have heard students use this strategy when talking about finding a passion for a subject matter even when the professor was a dud or a re-dedication to linguistic research after working in a job that was soul-crushing. The strategy is intended to show the speaker’s passion, commitment, and sense of calling. However….

From the perspective of the hearer:

This can sound like complaining! Talking about what you hated about a past job as a way of talking about what you will do differently in a current search or next job is a precarious strategy. It can leave your interlocutor with an image of you suffering at work (think Lakoff’s “don’t think of an elephant!” example). Your audience is left with a powerful image, but not the one that you really want them to walk away with.

Plant an image
Readers of this blog know well the power of narrative to create a memorable image of yourself in the mind of members of your network. So given this opportunity, plant an image that is positive. Don’t waste precious time talking about what you don’t love, SHOW yourself experiencing something that you do!

Ask for feedback

Have this aspect of professional self-presentation be something that you are having trusted advisers listening for on your behalf.  And remember that advisers like your parents, your partners, friends and family may not always be able to be brutally honest with you, but it can help to have there be a specific focus – like “how often do you hear me talking about what I don’t want?”  And this may also be a time to engage the help of communications experts (fellow linguists?)

 

Casey Scott-Songin

Career Profile: Consumer Research

The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.


This afternoon, I had the very great privilege of chatting with Casey Scott-Songin of Sapient-Nitro, a Marketing and Branding agency. I met Casey at the Career Expo at the American Anthropology Association meetings last month in Chicago, and because she shares my belief in the power of pay-it-forward networking, she agreed to have a chat with me this week while she is home for Christmas vacation.

Sapient is a huge organization with over 11,000 employees and offices worldwide (Casey works in the Toronto office), and Sapient Nitro a division that focuses on “telling stories in new and unexpected ways across brand communications.” In their words: StoryscapingSM is how we help our clients create experiences and tell their story in ever-present and never ending ways by marrying imagination with systems thinking. Learn more about Storyscaping here and clients that they have worked with here.

Casey brings a background in Anthropology to her work (she studied at the University of Toronto), which means that she has a keen eye for observation, and a good ear for awareness of the ways that clients are communicating. As she explained to me “its all about getting the best data possible!” and as for the skill that a would-be researcher could bring to Sapient-Nitro: Flexibility.

I heard the truth of this over the course of our conversation, as she described no fewer than six methodologies that she draws from regularly including: usability testing (out in the field, in-store interviews, have consumers use technologies in the store), market research, persona development (who customer is, person that you relate to), participant observation (to figure out who ideal customer is), customer journeys (steps that someone go through when trying to purchase a product like a Christmas tree, what are the variables), shop-alongs, interviews (remote, in person, in home interviews), surveys, and social media analysis.

Her elevator pitch: “I work with companies to solve specific problems”

So, for example, in a recent usability testing project, Casey was working with a client who had developed a gift registry website. She interviewed users as they worked through the site, which had three sections: create, manage, and find registry, but when it came to wanting to make changes, what she heard users saying was “I just want to be able to edit.” Users were looking for a section called “edit” not “manage,” so this insight can be passed on to the client. Another insight: for the baby registry, have a chair for the mothers to sit in if you expect them to stay in the store for to hours to set this up. From the client’s perspective this is good business, because it will encourage her to stay longer / spend more. From Casey’s perspective it is a way to attend to people and their needs, to make their lives better, even in a small way.

In walking me through a typical project, Casey shared some great ideas for people who want to break into the world of consumer research. Most projects begin with secondary research. Firms like Forrester, Mintel, and Data Monitor do research and put out reports that marketers and researchers use, noting industry trends, and, analytics modeling. In sifting through these sources to get up to speed on a new client’s needs, Casey’s job is to find the right report and then summarize, to inform the primary research that her team will conduct. Students who are interested in getting into research as a profession may be interested in looking into working at one of these secondary research firms. Over the course of a project, Casey comes to work closely with her counterpart at the client: companies like Target who have extensive research departments. Often, over the course of a career, researchers might work first in an agency to cultivate a broad expertise and then when they have found a sector that they particularly enjoy and might want to specialize in, they might move over to be in-house research.

Her words of advice: in taking on this work, remember that you will not be doing research for other researchers (as you might be used to from working with colleagues in graduate school). When you interact with the client, you are the expert, but to cultivate trust and comfort with your position of expertise, you must be able to communicate why you take the approach that you do, why it is the best way to get at what the client wants (this also means that you need to be listening attentively to the client when she tells you what she wants). Luckily for you, dear reader, attentive listening, expertise in communication, and an expectation for misunderstanding come with the linguists’ toolkit.


Sectors profiled in the “Profiles in Linguistics” series: Corporate Social Responsibility, Healthcare Communications, Library Science, Knowledge Management, Program Evaluation, Publishing, Social Media Marketing, Naming, Tech, User Experience Research.


Facework foursquare on the “request an introduction” feature of LinkedIn

In this post, I will look with my sociolinguist’s lens at the “request an introduction” as a speech act as one of the mechanisms for asking for things that LinkedIn operationalizes.

One of the greatest connectors that I know IRL (“in real life”) is Dr. Carole Sargent, the Director of Georgetown University’s office of Scholarly Publications. She and I are connected on LinkedIn, and looking at her profile, I see that she is connected many folks who are contributors on NPR. Say that I find a particular person who is in a part of the country that I am going to be traveling to, and I have an idea that I would like to get some feedback on. In the parlance of LinkedIn, I might ask Carole to introduce me to some people that she knows who would be a second degree connection for me (we both know Carole). LinkedIn organizes this interaction by, creating the message, warning me that the text that I compose asking for this introduction might be forwarded just as it is so as to make me think about audience design, even attending to negative face needs by suggesting that I give an “out” to Carole “be professional and give Carole Sargent a way to say “no””

This scaffolding might give a sense for the potential interactional pitfalls, the face implications that underlie this interactional event of my asking Carole for this introduction. Facework foursquare below is adapted from research that I have done with Laura West on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 1.12.36 PM

Starting with my negative face, LinkedIn does work to make asking this favor easy for me by not being too onerous or burdensome, also LinkedIn helps me do positive facework towards myself by telling me how it is that I can look smart and savvy and worthy of the introduction. My positive face needs demand that I “craft my message like a pro.” Now, thinking of Carole. Asking this favor is a potential threat, especially to her negative face, because I am imposing on her time. By reminding me to give her an out, LinkedIn calls attention to this need, so that she can say no (or ignore my request) without damaging her positive face. And while this can do positive facework for her, by telling her that she is “someone I trust” there is another potential facethreat here, which is that by taking this action myself, I have not given her the opportunity to accomplish positive facework for me in making the introduction. While I am often delighted to pass on a resume if I have been the one to see the connection between someone’s skills and interests and an organization’s needs, I can sometimes feel resentful if someone seems to be pressuring me to pass on a resume when I don’t feel that the time is right or that the fit is right or that I am not the right person. Be mindful that if LinkedIn has taken care of some of the manoevering behind the scenes, when an organizational need arises, sometimes the connection can be found naturally. The work that you can do is to make sure that you are the person who is found when that happens.

And when that is not enough, and you need to be a bit more overt in your reaching out, what Brown and Levinson might call “baldly,” now you know what you are doing when you do this, and let your language be shaped by awareness of face needs (imagining how you would feel if you were the person being asked).

Walking meetings inspired by LinkedIn

Recently, when I was visiting the Bay Area, I had the very great pleasure of visiting LinkedIn’s campus and one of the very first things that struck me was the path stretching alongside. Coming from the East Coast, the wilderness was so different as to be breathtaking but what really floored me was hearing several employees over the course of my visit say to one another “shall we go walk this idea?” It struck me that this was an entirely different working culture one that including walking meetings, which was recently corroborated when I saw this LinkedIn intern’s recent post about how he got a walking meeting with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner

http://blog.linkedin.com/2013/08/16/how-i-got-a-walking-meeting-with-linkedin-ceo-jeff-weiner/

That post referred back to an earlier post by Jeff Weiner
http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130129033750-22330283-where-i-work-i-ll-take-walking-1-1s-over-office-meetings-any-day

talking about why he prefers walking meetings. Again, as an East Coaster, I could not help but notice that this was posted in January, when if I were to suggest a walking meeting, I am not sure how many takers I would get. Don’t get me wrong, as a Canadian, I would be out there, just that I might be out there alone.

Which is fine too. I think that as an introvert, I need to remember to talk walks during the day more to regroup and recharge. I know that it certainly shifts my mood if I am having a stressful day.

But back to this idea of walking meetings. Apparently it is becoming something of a movement as evidenced by this TED talk on the subject by Nilofer Merchant

Inspired by LinkedIn, I started putting the idea into practice this semester. I found that it did indeed promote some out of the box – out of the box thinking! I found myself weathering some difficult conversations that I might not have risked having otherwise, but conversations that proved to be tremendously important for development and growth. Somehow without the office frame, the interaction becomes about the task of putting one step in front of the other, and bottom line: fresh air motivates fresh thinking, and I am going to try to do more of them in the new year.

http://www.feetfirst.org/walk-and-maps/walking-meetings

The opposite of jobsearching

In many ways, learning how to tell your story can feel backwards.  You look at the past to think about the future, you read job ads to see if you are a fit for the organization by listening for what they DON’T say (the “noisy nots”), and as you do research within the organization, you are trying to identify where they are lacking to see where you can pitch yourself as being of most use.  In my own searching, one of the most helpful “opposites” in the process, is learning what you want by thinking about what you have learned about what you don’t want.  Every job has its plusses and minuses, and in doing the retrospective job math, I think that we can learn just as much from summing up the cumulative minuses.  This can be helpful at any stage of career development, even if you are in the perfect job, sometimes it is helpful to remember exactly why it is that it suits you so well.  Or, what is more likely, for how your job can be further grown and developed  to become more of what you want it to be, this exercise can help you find some landmarks on the map.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.08.46 AMWe think about this in writing your resume: highlighting the activities that you liked the best and would want to do again.  But I would like to also find a way to hang on to the activities that you did not like to see there as a reminder.  I have had friends tell me that they keep an anti-resume.  This could be jobs that you quit, jobs that you turned down, and she wanted to keep a record so that she could celebrate her continued ability to say  “no” to some things so that she could say “yes” to more and more things that she really wanted.

 

In my case, one of the biggest “no”s came from my time at Goldman.

I need to work in an organization that asks questions

Many observers have noted this about wall street culture: Karen Ho explores it in her brilliant ethnography Liquidated, noting the built-in lack of time for reflection in the recruiting process, where students are recruited long before they ever have the space to think: what do I want to do with my life?” Greg Smith noted it in his NYTime Op-Ed piece as one of the elements contributing to what he describes as the “toxic” culture of Goldman:

 

I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

 

I love his use of the “alien from Mars” trope!  That strangemaking is what we are all about in this process, and as we all continue making strange that which has been our experience, I hope that we can attend to the NOs just as much as the YESSES!

 

An august tradition of looking outwards / beyond

I just came across the most fascinating document!

Careers in Linguistics: New Horizons. Proceedings of a Conference Held in Conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (56th, New York, NY, December 1981).
Niebuhr, Mary M., Ed.
Proceedings are presented of a conference on non-academic careers for linguists, which was co-sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America and the CUNY Ph.D. Program in Linguistics. The presentations are under two headings: (1) “What Linguists Can Do,” and (2) “What Linguists Are Doing.” The first section includes contributions by Frederick G. Mish, W. O. Baker, Frank J. Macchiarola, Tracy C. Gray, Lothar Simon and Alan Westaway. Their presentations deal with the contributions linguists may be able to make in the fields of lexicography, computers, education (non-teaching), language planning and government policy, publishing and translation. The second section includes contributions by Norma Rees, Stuart Flexner, Mark Liberman, Robbin Battison, William Labov and Marcia Farr. Their presentations focus on the fields of language disorders, lexicography, computers, business, language policy and social problems, and language research. The volume concludes with a transcript of the question and answer period. (AMH)

It gives our symposium at the upcoming LSA: Taking Linguistics Beyond Linguistics Programs and Departments a whole new context!  🙂

 

 

 

 

BRIGHTEN your career outlook

My new answer to “what can you do with a degree in linguistics?” is BRIGHTEN!  This works both as a command to gloomy would-be nay sayers, but it is also the “world of work” acronym that I am trotting out these days.  BRIGHTEN stands for: Business, Research, Innovation, Government, Healthcare, Technology, Education, and Non-Profits.  These are the fields in which people in my network with skills and training in linguistics have found professional expression of their love of language and culture.  

In other words: it’s where the (soico)linguists are working!  🙂

And these buckets are loose descriptors at best.  As coding categories, these would not pass muster because they are not mutually exclusive, nor do they capture comparable in terms of level or scope, but they do further my goals here: those of inviting curiosity and starting a conversation around the world of work.

So, beginning with Business. This category is probably the least descriptive, and at the same time, the most in need of elucidation.  In my experience, most people who have not worked in “business” have only the fuzziest of ideas of what the word itself entails, when the truth is really that all of us who work conduct business of one sort or another.  Business can involve hiring, firing, managing and training people, paying attention to workflows and dissemination of resources, or keeping track of finances and accounting, but for our purposes here, I will call attention to work in business that attends primarily to work systems and flows.  So this would include Management Consulting firms like Booz Allen Hamilton (as of right now the #1 employer of alum of the MLC), Gap International (founded by a linguist) or Corporate Executive Board.  Business also includes the worlds of PR, Marketing, Branding and Naming, the latter being a type of agency who are very aware of linguists, and who almost always have at least one on their payroll.  Catchword, for example, was founded by two linguists!   And don’t forget Entrpreneurship, inspiring linguists who have set up their own shops and work as consultants (for just one example, take a peek at Barbara Clark’s You Say Tomato).

Research and Innovation can be treated together for now because the all the linguists in my network who are doing research are innovative, and innovation does not happen without research.  When I think about this exciting world of work, I think about firms like IDEO, Sapient Nitro, or Practica Group and linguists who do work in Usability Research like Nancy Frishburg, who blogs at Fish Bird. Also tremendously inspiring is the work done by research organizations like The FrameWorks Institute, Cultural Logic LLC, Nielson and Pew Research.  Many of the folks who I know employed as researchers work for government (as I will profile in the next section), and there are also research firms which could be classified as “business” for example Fors Marsh Group.

Government The Census Bureau always has a number of linguists working as researchers in the Statistical Research Division, but government also encomapsses military organizations like the Army Research Institute, DARPA and the Naval Research Labaratory.   There are also firms that work primarily with government contracts like the Center for the Advanced Study of Language (CASL), The Department of Veterans Affairs, Veteran’s Health Administration has a division of Research and Development that does important research into issues facing today’s veterans.  Also, the FBI employs many linguists in varied capacities from language assessment to threat assessment and field agent trainers.   Linguists are also happily employed at NSF, the Smithsonian, even NASA.

Healthcare The primary sector employing (socio)linguistics in my network is healthcare communication, and this includes research firms like Verilogue and Ogilvy Common Health, or social media research firms for healthcare clients, firms like Marketeching, or Kaiser Permanente’s forward-thinking Garfield Innovation center, changing the way that medicine is practiced.   Also, firms specializing in healthcare software like ElationEMR hire lateral thinkers.

Technology Google is probably the most famous creation of linguists, but organizations like Microsoft, Nuance Communications, and Mindsnacks also hire linguists.   I have been heartened lately by the hiring done by Social Media platforms like Twitter’s recent posting for a Market Researcher: “You are a master storyteller and believe data is more inspiring when it connects back to the lives of real people. You have a strong, working understanding of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. You know exactly when to engage with teams across Design, Product, Engineering, and Marketing, what questions to ask, where to probe, and how to implement the most effective research strategies.”

Also just about every business nowadays hires social media strategists, to which linguists bring a new perspective, as just one example Rosetta Stone.

Education many of the organizations that I would wish to profile in this section could also be described as research firms or non-profits, the best known of these organizations being CAL (the Center for Applied Linguistics), but also organizations like the Center for Inspired Teaching, or Reading Partners also employe linguists. Also, lest we overlook something that is hiding in plain sight, let’s begin by thinking about some of the perhaps lesser-known work that is done in educational contexts.  My job for example, that of program director of the MLC.  Such positions exist in academic departments, but also as directors of research institutes that exist on campus (for example Institute for the Study of International Migration), or centers for teaching and research application like the Center for Social Justice, student services like UNH’s Center for Academic Resources or faculty support like CNDLS on Georgetown’s campus.  Also, many of the initiatives at an organization like the World Bank are education focused, which might involve education at two levels: first, designing and implementing training and facilitation modules, but second these modules are focused on education reform in developing countries.

Nonprofits merit their own category not because the tasks performed by individuals in this sector are qualitatively different from those done by employees in other sectors (or even in business), and indeed, many of the nonprofts have already been profiled in other sections of this discussion, but because there are great career resources like Idealist.org for people who are drawn to mission and values-driven non-profit organizations.  That being said, I would also encourage people who are driven by social justice to consider that there are ways to find such work in other sectors, even in business.  Just about every company now has an initiative called Corporate Social Responsibility, and this could involve anything from grants to development outreach, cultivating entrepreneurship in developing countries or just figuring out how to be better employers to your employees and better citizens on the planet.  Many non-profits are funded by government grants or business initiatives, so one way to be the change that you wish to see in the world might be to be on the side of the table of the folks looking for funding opportunities.

You will notice that some major sectors are entirely missing here like Language and Law, Translation/Interpretation, Language Teaching and last but certainly not least: academia.  I do not focus on those here only because they are well treated elsewhere, not because they are not doing interesting and important work.

Have a work story to share? Join the conversation!  Are you a linguist doing interesting work utilizing your linguistic skills and training?  I would love to hear about it!

You!

attribution: waferboard’s photostream

We often talk in this blog about the importance of a deictic shift – about what a difference it can make to a listener to hear a “you” pronoun (rather than an “I”), how that can have the effect of pulling one into the conversation.

The contexts that come immediately to mind are beginning to answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in a job interview (your interviewer likely won’t why, but something drew them in), or in a cover letter – the difference between language that is “I” focused (I am looking for an opportunity to practice my French) vs. “you” (my abilities in French will support your organization’s need recent expansion into the Francophone Canada market).

But despite my awareness of the deictic shift and how powerful it can be, I have to confess that I truly felt pulled in this week when I read Twitter’s recent job ad for a market researcher:

https://twitter.com/jobs/positions?jvi=osZ1Xfw9,Job

You are a master storyteller and believe data is more inspiring when it connects back to the lives of real people. You have a strong, working understanding of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. You know exactly when to engage with teams across Design, Product, Engineering, and Marketing, what questions to ask, where to probe, and how to implement the most effective research strategies. You thrive in a fast-paced environment and enjoy setting and prioritizing research goals, managing load and expectations. You’re passionate about Twitter and believe great experiences are always inspired by a deep understanding of markets and users.

I happen to fancy myself a master storyteller (and many people must do I suspect), but yes, I really DO believe that data is (are) more inspiring when it connects back to the life of real people!  So inspiring to hear Twitter articulate their linguistic awareness in this way.  It makes me feel like they have taken time to think about me and to be aware of the language that they use to connect with me.  More job ads should read like this! I’m looking at you LinkedIn!  🙂

 

Skills cultivated by studying Linguistics

skillzzApplying for jobs is all about skills.  Creating the job that you want means recognizing the skills that you possess and figuring out ways to use them in contexts that make you happy.  Getting the job that you want is all about communicating this awareness (with enthusiasm) in texts like cover letters.

So what skills do linguists have?

As readers of this blog well know, there are many skills that the study of linguistics cultivates, and the irony is that the longer you have been doing linguistics, the more natural each of these starts to become, and the less visible.  Further, in the educational context, we can take our skills for granted because we are surrounded by people who share them, but the truth is that out there in the work world, a linguist’s way of listening is as rare as it is valuable.

We expect misunderstanding
In courses like Cross-Cultural Communication, we focus in on moments of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and not because we believe communication to be impossible, but instead to celebrate what an interactional achievement smooth communication actually is.  Adopting a stance of expecting misunderstanding informs our way of looking at interaction and our interactional behavior in many important ways.

First, it gives us a bit of critical distance from our language when we understand that miscommunication is not personal, it is not because we are ineffectual or owing to willful lack of effort or cooperation on the part of the other party.  This knowledge makes us value communication.  We know that it takes work to communicate, and we have patience for this work.  Additionally, we know how to talk about communication, so that when miscommunication does occur, not only are we more likely to recognize it, we know how to diagnose it, talk about it, unpack it – to arrive at a deeper understanding of it.  We rush in where others may fear to tread!

Expecting misunderstanding at the outset will lead you to work towards understanding (to invest in it).  We cultivate a certain comfort with misunderstanding which can help us get people through conflict, which is a rare skill indeed!

We are precise in our terminology
I am often accused of “being a linguist” in moments where I insist on clarity and precision in word choice, for example, questioning a characterization of something as “normal” or cuing into language that is particularly “othering” or unnecessarily alienating – in the style of “us” vs. “them”.   Such awareness may prevent miscommunication and it is also quite powerful because it helps me strive for clarity and precision and in turn push others to clarify their thinking and their writing.

We are not afraid of questions
In many workplace settings, questions are unconsciously avoided for many reasons. Questions are often seen as being the enemy to efficiency because they introduce complexity, they introduce ambiguity, but life is complex and ambiguous. Only by asking questions do we arrive at a closer understanding of the truth.

  • And so we ask “What does X mean?”
  • And we ask “Why?”

This exemplification of critical thinking is an application of our training.  We can complexify because we are not overwhelmed by ambiguities and myriad interpretations – because (conveniently enough) we are also trained in synthesis, analysis, & meaning-making!

We think in systems
Training in linguistics is training in making meaning, which enables us in any context to be better at systems thinking and to recognize overarching themes.  We are trained to find patterns in chaos and to make the invisible visible.  Some people describe this as connecting the dots, systems thinking, or making models, but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that most people are too busy being in the pattern to actually see the pattern – much less change it.  We can help!

We lead with listening
Because we look at communication with an eye to improving understanding and improving relationships, we listen for what people really care about.  We can take on the perspective of the other person in an interaction and we know how to peel back to get at underlying assumptions.  Additionally, because we are trained for listening to the nuances of the ways that people talk, we can use our listening to help us talk in ways that mirror and resemble those of the people we are talking to, which enables us to better hear and be heard.   This skill builds rapport.

Finally, we pick up on things.   We are sharp observers and this skill is marketable in any context!

In this post, I have discussed just a few skills that I see, and I hope that this has inspired your own thinking about your own skills.  Ping me back about the ones that resonate and add ones that I have not mentioned!

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Networking!

Gallaudet had been studying to be a minister and back in those days when you finished school, you would begin a process of write away to job postings that had been advertised, so he went home to live with his family for a while.  He got caught up on the lives of his younger siblings and their friends and he noticed that all of the neighbor kids were all playing together with the exception of Alice, the daughter of one of his neighbors, who he then learned was deaf.  As he came to understand through conversations with her parents, although there was no language for the Deaf in the United States, sign languages did exist in Europe and he felt called to action.  He began fundraising and ultimately was able to be sent over to a convention for Deaf educators that was being held later that year in London.  He figured that British sign language would be the natural choice, but as he learned when he met the British deaf educators, they were not willing to train him in the language unless he was willing to stay on and teach within their schools for a number of years. His passion was to bring a language to the United States, so he turned down their offer to stay and work with them.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 6.52.03 PM

It seemed like his trip had been in vain until he met Laurent Clerc, an educator from France, who taught him LSF (Langue de Signes Franscaise) and then traveled back with him to America to set up the first school for the deaf here in Hartford Connecituit, near where Gallaudet and his family lived. Alice was one of their first students, and in the process of teaching them LSF, and in their learning English and learning from one another the home signs that each of them had brought with them, a new language was born: ASL.

He recognized a problem that he was willing to devote himself to solving

And his response to the problem of Alice’s inability to communicate was absolutely informed by his training as a minister and the way that it had prepared him to engage with the world.

He applied his skills to this problem

From back in the days of Michelangelo, it has always been about finding the money to support you in doing what you are called to do.  His success was absolutely the result of skills in fundraising, which no doubt were enhanced by his skills in teaching (he taught these people that he raised money from about the importance of a language for the deaf).

He networked

With the conference in the UK, he found an association of individuals, a community that would support him, and he did not take the first offer of support either.  He stayed true to his guiding interest and ultimately found the right contact for him at that time: Laurent Clerc.  Also, because this story takes place nearly 200 years ago, it serves as a reminder that despite all the claims that the world of work is changing, things were ever thus.  Our paths are absolutely changed by the people that we meet along the way.

As a linguist of course, this story is exciting because it involves the creation of a new language, but I also love it as a exemplification of the roundabout ways that we come to find professional expression of our gifts.  They say that luck with where opportunity meets preparation, and Gallaudet was certainly prepared to be lucky in the moment that he learned about the need for an American sign language.