by Ben Davies
A common feeling among graduates of language degree courses is one of uncertainty. Languages is a subject of study often chosen based on personal goals more than career-driven goals. Therefore, without proper planning before graduation, a languages graduate can come out of the course wondering what exactly they’re qualified to do.
This article will explore some of the possible careers, skills obtained by doing a languages degree, and options for further training. Don’t despair just yet – there are still many career options open to you!
What are my skills?
Before you consider your career choices, think first about your skills. Your degree has probably equipped you with at least the following skills, all of which are desirable in the modern jobseeker:
- Oral communication
- Written communication
- At least one foreign language
- Experience of living abroad
- Experience of dealing with people from various backgrounds, languages and countries
And, like most graduates, you can probably add the following skills to your list too:
- Able to work in a team
- Able to work independently
- IT skills
- Project management
- Presentation skills
Already you have a list of skills beyond just your linguistic ability that employers are looking for.
What jobs are available?
There are at least three obvious career choices that spring to mind when talking about languages: translating, interpreting and teaching. Before we explore these three ideas, consider the alternatives.
Foreign languages are necessary in most sectors due to the proliferation of multinational businesses, internet-based companies, and the onset of globalisation.
Language jobs in HE
In the higher education sector, for example, foreign language skills are required in a variety of roles. There are, of course, lecturing and teaching posts in foreign language departments that demand multi-lingual proficiency. International Offices also require foreign language speakers. Consider the case study of this Welfare and Erasmus Assistant. Other roles involving international students, such as Events, Marketing, and even Accommodation, at times demand skills in foreign languages.
If you want something with a stronger business focus, there are positions such as Multilingual PA, Foreign Language Customer Service Representative and a variety of administration roles that require foreign language skills in a challenging environment.
There is a great demand for foreign language speakers in politics, media and journalism, creative writing, market research and a host of other industries. And we haven’t even mentioned the big three yet – Teaching, Translation, and Interpretation.
Teaching, translation, and interpretation
Teaching is a strong option for graduates of language degrees. There is a range of careers on offer in teaching. Whether it’s teaching in schools, further education colleges or universities, private language schools, or teaching abroad, you will have to use the language regularly and pass on your knowledge to learners.
Teaching a foreign language at a secondary school in the UK requires attaining Qualified Teacher Status. There are a number of ways to become qualified, but a PGCE is perhaps the most common way in. Languages taught include French, German and Spanish, and Japanese and Mandarin Chinese among other non-European tongues.
Adult and Further Education colleges also require getting qualified, this time with Qualified Teacher, Learning and Skills status. There are many part-time jobs in this field, and it generally involves teaching students aged 16 and above.
Some language graduates go into Teaching English as a Foreign Language as a career. There are work options in the UK and abroad, but teaching in a country that speaks your second language gives you the chance to put your skills to good use.
Translation demands attention to detail and a complete mastery of language. If you have these attributes, translation is a rewarding and varied career choice. It simply involves translating a text from one language into another language. The source material may range from subtitles for an advert, to a death certificate, and everything in between.
Many translators work on a freelance basis, which allows them to take on a variety of work. It is usually necessary to pass a test before an employer will give you any work, but once a good reputation has been built up the amount of work can snowball.
Alternatively, if you want the stability of being a contracted, permanent employee, civil service translation jobs are relatively common. The government employs many translators to translate documents pertaining to official matters. Civil service jobs can be found on their website http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/jobs/.
Charities, international organizations, and other political bodies (such as the EU and the UN) also require translators. Translation jobs can be obtained with an undergraduate degree, but PG qualifications and knowledge of specialist subject areas (especially those related to business, law and politics) are prized.
Interpreting is similar to translation, but has one vital difference: interpreting is live. It involves translating the spoken words of one person into a language intelligible to the interlocutors. This may be required in one-to-one settings, business meetings, or large conferences.
Much like translation, interpreting is largely done on a freelance basis. Again, you will find that postgraduate qualifications, and specialist interpreting or translating licenses will aid your search for work.
Interpreters are in demand in politics, business and civil service jobs wherein direct communication with foreign language speakers is required.
Working with languages
We have seen, then, that your languages degree can open up a wealth of career prospects in business, education, translation and more. Talking to your university careers service, attending careers fairs where you can talk to languages graduates, and networking with people who can help you career will be vital. Please also read the following articles for more careers advice: