The Polyglot Profiles – Introducing Sara Maria Hasbun
Sara Maria Hasbun is the founder and Managing Director of Meridian Linguistics, a linguistic consulting firm that offers translation and other language services to global businesses. Their linguists and translators work remotely from all over the world.
Sara Maria is American, but currently based in South Korea. She also recently started a blog and YouTube channel (Misslinguistic) in which she chronicles her adventures in extreme language learning; to date, she speaks English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Korean, ASL, and Indonesian, and is currently studying Cantonese along with a few other languages. Sara Maria hopes that her blog and videos will help others get over their fear of learning languages, so that they can quickly and efficiently learn any language they want.
How did you become involved in the language industry?
I started as an academic. I was a psycholinguist, which means that my research focused on how language works in the brain—how children and adults acquire language, and how language changes. I worked in a research lab that focused on Nicaraguan Sign Language, one of the youngest languages in the world. Since it is young, it changes quickly, so studying Nicaraguan Sign Language lets us observe language emerging and changing almost in fast forward. It was fascinating work.
When I started my PhD, it quickly became apparent that I didn’t want a life as a professor. I started doing some side work as an interpreter, and fell in love with translation and interpreting. That was when I realized that what I really wanted was a job that let me learn and use foreign languages all day.
Did you always think you’d work with languages?
Definitely not! Growing up in the US, I was a very typical monolingual English speaker until a year into university. My father is a native Spanish speaker, but by the time I was born his English was already very near-native, and as my mother is a native English speaker we only used English at home. I actually really struggled with high school Spanish.
I was also under the mistaken impression that only heritage speakers, children who grew up bilingual, could ever truly be fluent in a second language. As long as there were thousands of Spanish-English bilinguals, how could my paltry Spanish ever be marketable?
It was only many years later, after a summer of immersion in Madrid, that I made my first linguistic breakthrough and finally became fluent in Spanish. I then found that despite all the competition, there was still plenty of demand for my Spanish abilities. And once I had become more confident in my ability to learn foreign languages, I obviously felt the need to overcompensate, because I then enrolled in French, Russian, Mandarin, and Arabic courses, which I happily studied alongside my linguistics degree.
What’s the best part about being a language professional?
The best part of being a language professional is getting paid to learn! As a translator, you are never done learning any of your languages, including your native language, because language is constantly changing. On any given day you’ll have to learn specialized terminology across a range of subjects, or maybe on the job you’ll get exposed to some quirky new slang. No day is the same.
I’m not doing much translation now, as I am focusing more on the management side of Meridian Linguistics. However, through my blog I’m finding even more opportunities to learn new languages and to improve my old ones. As a personal challenge, I spent last August learning Indonesian, which is one of the easiest languages in the world, just to see if I could do it in one month. If you subscribe to my blog, I’ll be posting about that experience soon!
Where do you see the future of the language industry and your role going?
This is a very exciting time for the language industry, because language is the last barrier to true globalization. Automation and artificial intelligence will make our jobs more efficient and more rewarding, and will give more of the world access to our services. Demand for linguists is skyrocketing, and I have found that it is never too late to add a new language to your repertoire.
What’s the biggest tip you may give someone interested in pursuing a career as a language professional?
As a language professional, you will have the most job security if you learn—and learn to love—technology. Humans will not be replaced by technology, but humans WILL be replaced by other humans that know how to leverage technology. It is in your best interests to carefully follow all technological breakthroughs and to enroll in courses wherever you can, to keep your skills fresh.
You can find Sara Maria’s blog about language learning at: https://www.misslinguistic.com.