As the world becomes increasingly globalized, careers in the language industry have been growing exponentially. When one thinks of careers in the language industry, most probably think of being a translator or interpreter. Perhaps they imagine being a Spanish translator, translating Spanish documents such as medical records, birth certifications, and contracts into English, or translating flyer and brochures from English into Spanish for the local Limited English Proficient (LEP) population.
Or, they might even imagine sitting in a booth at a United Nations (UN) conference, working as a Chinese simultaneous interpreter, interpreting the speaker’s language while they are still speaking. These are both mentally and even physically demanding skills. However, there are many more careers in the language industry beyond just being a Spanish translator or Chinese interpreter, and developing language abilities has become one of the most in-demand and rewarding skills in today’s workplace.
Foreign Language Instruction and Education
Another popular career path for linguists is in the education field. This can include anything from teaching the Spanish language in middle school or high school, to working as a full-time contract linguist for the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI), providing foreign language training to U.S. government personnel with the linguistic skills they need to serve the U.S. government’s diplomatic goals overseas.
To become a professional language instructor, you typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in the target language (or other relevant field), native-like or near-native fluency in the target language, based on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scoring system, as well as some experience teaching a foreign language. To be a teacher in the public school system, most states also require a series of teacher certification exams, although many private schools do not have this requirement.
The Great Demand for Government Linguists
Given the rapid globalization mentioned above, one of the largest clients for professional language services – and sources for language-related specialty jobs – is the federal government. Aside from the aforementioned language instructors for the Department of State, the federal government utilizes professional linguists in many different areas and agencies. In recent years, many of these types of positions are contracted with the private sector, but some are still employees of the federal government. Linguists who support the government, whether as a contractor or direct employee, are in great demand, particularly in certain languages.
So, what kind of language jobs does the government typically need? Anything from cryptologists on the higher end to regular translators and interpreters, and everything in between. You could be listening to wire taps in a foreign language and transcribing the content for a federal law enforcement agency, interpreting for a member of the cabinet at a meeting with a foreign delegation, or translating scripts for the Voice of America (VOA), to be broadcast all over the world.
Jobs in the Language Industry
If you are skilled in foreign language but are not interested in translation, interpretation, teaching a foreign language, or working with the U.S. government, there are many types of jobs available to people in the language industry. These types of jobs are usually not language-focused, but you would still have some opportunities to use your language skills and also to learn about many other different languages.
The most in-demand language industry jobs are for Project Managers. The primary responsibilities of a Language Project Manager include managing language projects from clients, either in the government or private sector; assigning projects to a translator, interpreter, or other type of language professional; providing outstanding customer service to your clients; and administrative/quality control functions. It can be a demanding job, with a high volume of work long hours, but allows you to work with a diverse range of clients, specialized fields, and be around language all day. It can be extremely rewarding, and language companies are always looking for good project managers. Not to mention, working for a few years as a Language Project Manager provides valuable experience for future career opportunities, either within the language industry or outside the industry.
What Does it Take to Be a Language Professional?
There is no single set of guidelines or steps to becoming qualified as a language professional. The requirements for education and experience can vary greatly depending on whether you want to be a high school French teacher, a Japanese translator, or a Russian language analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Of course, each of these positions will require prior experience in a foreign language and a minimum skill level.
These are some of the basic requirements for getting into the language business:
- Bachelor’s degree in the target language or other relevant field (e.g., linguistics);
- Native, Near-Native, or Professional Working Proficiency in both English and the target language;
- Certification from an organization such as the American Translators Association (ATA), State/Federal Court System, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), ALTA, and many others (depending on which specialized field you want to pursue);
- Some amount of experience for most types of positions.
If you are interested in languages and would like to learn a new one (or even to brush up on your high school Spanish or French in order to strengthen your resume for future job prospects), it is never too late to learn!
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We offer individual and small group classes, remote or on-site, in dozens of languages. We provide students with a structured program that combines classroom instruction, online collaboration through Google Classroom, daily assignments, and a total classroom immersion experience.
At the end of the course, we will provide you with an accredited examination and certification of your language skills through a third-party testing service that will provide you with a score in each skill area (speaking, reading, writing, listening, and even translation) based on the Inter-Agency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale.
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