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One reason to learn a foreign language

I recently visited Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes. Walking through the makeshift wooden huts inspired me with admiration and respect for those who worked there during the Second World War. It also made me realise how important the role of linguists and translators was in breaking the code. I hadn’t previously made the connection, as I am sure neither had many of you, that deciphering Axis's communications involved recruiting linguists and translators.

Let’s backtrack a bit…

Because of its location, Bletchley Park was chosen to be the home of the code breakers. Bletchley is roughly halfway between Oxford and Cambridge (many were recruited from there), and it's connected to the main railway line between London and Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

In 1939 the code breakers began their work.

Enigma – from the Ancient Greek noun αἴνιγμα (enigma), meaning 'riddle', and the verb αἰνίσσομαι (enissomai), meaning 'speaking in riddles' – was firstly broken in 1932 by the Polish intelligence, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials in Germany.

With Poland's invasion imminent, Poles decided to inform the British asking for help with breaking Enigma once again. This meant Polish intelligence officers started arriving in Bletchley.

Early in 1940, the code was broken and messages could be deciphered.

Here’s the step by step approach followed daily at Bletchley Park:

  1. Intercept your enemies’ radio signals

  2. Work out how the messages have been encrypted

  3. Decipher

  4. Translate

  5. Cross Reference

  6. Send on the top-secret intelligence you’ve uncovered

The messages deciphered at Bletchley Park were in many languages, not just in German. The linguists working at Bletchley Park were also translating French, Italian, and Japanese communications into English, to name a few of the languages.

The exhibition at Bletchley Park mentions that "People fluent in German and other European Languages were in high demand and many Codebreakers trained in Japanese were sent abroad to work on Japanese codes and ciphers much closer to the front line."

F.L Peter Lucas, Head of Hut 3, Research Section, said "It was not a matter of receiving straightforward messages and translating them; it was…a matter of receiving material which was nearly always more or less imperfect, incomplete, rarely intelligible with ease and at its worst, totally meaningless even to the best German scholar."

At the end of my visit, it became obvious that diversity played a key role in the success of Bletchley Park. Linguists, translators, mathematicians, technicians, men, women, French, Polish, British, German-speaking, Japanese-speaking, Italian-speaking, of all ages and backgrounds came together to enhance communication and promote peace. It is estimated that breaking Enigma contributed to the war ending two years early, saving millions of lives.

Can you imagine being a history-making linguist?

Can you consider what consequences a tiny translation mistake could have had for humanity?


Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English, Greek and French herself and has a team of trusted colleagues who can cover other languages. The offered language services serve mainly the legal, creative, and psychometrics industries. Vasiliki is a Chartered Linguist, member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and Panhellenic Association of Greek Translators (PEM). She is registered with the Greek Consulate in the United Kingdom as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English Language and Linguistics and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. As Member of Council to the CIOL and Board Member of the IoL Educational Trust she overseas and supports the organisations' strategic goals. Being involved in her industry means often delivering public speaking and writing for industry magazines. Her mission is to help organisations and individuals achieve their goals through the power of words. Through The Translators Mentor, Vasiliki helps aspiring or young translators to overcome self-limiting beliefs, build a business mindset and achieve their highest potential. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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The contents of this blog belong to Vasiliki Prestidge, Director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd and cannot be copied or reproduced without the prior written permission of the author.

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