What’s a second language worth?
Or rather, how much can you earn by learning an extra language?
Ever asked yourself that?
Well, in a way, you already know the answer: It depends.
The language will take you as far as you take it.
Still, learning any language can really open up your career possibilities.
In this post, we’ll look into some of the awesome jobs that become available to someone when they speak another language.
In so doing, we hope to encourage everybody to start learning languages and increase their work options.
10 Super Cool Jobs for People Who Know a Foreign Language
1. Teacher, Private Tutor or Online Tutor
If you speak another language, the first thing to consider in terms of increased usefulness is being able to teach that language to others. You have three basic options here: classroom teacher, private tutor and online tutor.
As a teacher, regardless of the school or organization you’ll be joining, you’re probably going to need at least a degree in the language you want to teach, plus certifications—proof that you stand ready and qualified for the work.
Pick the teaching route if you love the idea of interacting with students and feel at home in a classroom environment. If you love the stability and formality of classes, then you’ll really love holding your own in a school, delivering the bullet-points in your lesson plans. There’s nothing as fulfilling as mentoring language learners and knowing that you’re making a positive contribution to them and their lives.
But the reality is, many fluent speakers don’t have the requisite credentials, although they’re perfectly able to teach the language to others. So for these folks who want to give teaching a go, the second and third options—working as private and online tutors—might be the way to go.
A private tutor is like a classroom teacher, but s/he often works on a one-on-one and face-to-face basis. Sessions often take place after classes or work and may be engaged for remedial or enrichment purposes. Since you’ll probably be working freelance in this job, you’ll have complete control of the lessons and methods you use. This is one of the big draws of private tutoring.
One drawback, however, is that as a freelancer you have to work the marketing side of the job. You have to put yourself out there and get yourself noticed and known. You can try posting your services on sites like Craigslist, Monster, eBay Classifieds or Oodle.
A smart way to reach out for tutoring clients is signing up for Wyzant.
This site puts your profile in front of a wide range of language students looking for tutors in your local area. The onboarding process is simple and rather fast: Answer a few questions about yourself and your relevant language experience, then pass a very standard, timed questionnaire to verify your skills. You’ll be approved very quickly and will have access to the Wyzant job board, where you can view dozens of potential tutoring clients on any given day. Of course, the number of potential clients out there will depend on the demand in your local area.
Many pick the third route, online tutoring, because they love the flexibility it brings. If the idea of working whenever and wherever appeals to you, then become an online tutor. The main advantage is that because it’s all done online, it blows open the door to a much wider market. You’re not limited by time or geography anymore.
Verbling is hands-down the best place to start looking for online tutoring jobs.
There’s a huge user base, and if you’re able to teach a less common language, then you’ll find even more students heading your way. It also simplifies the whole online teaching experience, streamlining your online classroom so you have no need for Skype or another third-party software—you can set up your teaching schedule, advertise your skills, communicate with students and hold classes right on this site.
A FluentU account can provide you with relevant video materials and inspiration for your lessons—it can also help you stay up-to-date on cultural trends and references, or study other languages if you’re still looking to expand your skill set. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons, which makes it perfect for learning any language for the real-world applications discussed in this post.
If you’re in a language-related job but not teaching others the language, you’ll probably be doing some kind of “bridging.” Meaning you’re facilitating communication between parties in a situation, like when two heads of state who don’t know each other’s languages need to talk to each other. You bridge their languages so that before they come to an agreement, they first come to an understanding of what the other is saying.
Interpreters are most commonly visible during public events (Miss Universe pageant, UFC, church) where a lot of people who may not understand the speaker’s language are very much interested in what s/he is saying.
Interpreters aren’t always on display, though. They also work smaller venues like courts. In the UN, you oftentimes won’t even see them because they’re closeted in a booth nearby. But they’re facilitating the proceedings nevertheless. That’s them talking through the headphones, the voices in the heads of the delegates.
Regardless of the platform or the size of the crowd, the job still consists of the same goal: accurately bridging two languages. This could easily be one of the most challenging and fun language jobs out there. There’s nothing like the rush of being placed on the spot and, without missing a beat, converting the language you heard a millisecond ago into a target language. That right there is pure magic.
If working next to Miss Universe isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps working with the written form of the language is more your style. Often, translation work can be done in the privacy of your study or wherever a Starbucks table opens up.
Translation is the process of rendering a piece of text understandable to a target audience. Translators normally translate from a second language into their native tongue. For example, Pierre, a native French speaker who also happens to speak fluent English, would be an ideal person to translate English into French.
Unlike interpreters, who sometimes share the spotlight, translators often work behind the scenes, patiently converting words, thoughts and intent into a different language.
You may not know it, but some of the greatest pieces of literature you’ve read in English are actually translations of the original. Some examples are “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” (written by Homer in Greek), “The Three Musketeers” (written by Dumas in French) and “Anna Karenina” (written in Russian by Tolstoy).
This means that some words we revere in the English language have actually been penned by (often unknown) translators rather than by the name written on the front of the book.
Translators play a crucial role in our society and there are many different types. In addition to literary translators, you’ve got your specialized translators who work in different fields.
Legal translators, for example, convert texts within the field of law. This includes contracts, protocols, decrees, decisions, depositions, even minutes of proceedings.
Medical translators work to make physicians’ diagnoses, treatment plans, patient information and pharmacological instructions intelligible in a different language. They also work to translate instruction manuals for medical equipment so patients can safely and effectively use said equipment.
In short, every time there’s a language barrier, translators work to make a written text comprehensible for any number of readers. This means working as a literary translator isn’t the only way to go.
Now, I’m not saying you should hole up in your room and start translating the next classic or a whole textbook. That’s probably biting off more than you can chew. Start by translating simple and short documents like letters, memos, speeches, etc. Build your skills. And then, when you think you’re good, build them some more.
Here’s a good book if you want to get into translating.
4. Children’s Book Writer
Writing children’s literature is a good way to start writing, especially if the language you’re using is not your first language. It doesn’t force you to compete with well-connected and well-established native speakers as much as some other fields.
But even more than the lighter writing load—which gives you more time to actually contemplate plot and other areas where you stand on equal ground with native speakers—some parts of children’s literature are largely untapped markets, with plenty of entry points for bilinguals.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center tracked racial diversity in children’s lit since 1985 and found the field to be very “white.” In both authorship and content, children’s lit writers are predominantly white. In other words, you get mostly white writers writing about white characters. This has left a pretty huge hole in children’s lit where minorities and people of color are concerned, but this is an area that can be perfectly filled by bilinguals.
In America, for example, there’s a huge Hispanic population that an author can cater to. (Same thing with Asian-Americans.) You could write a bilingual children’s book in which the same story is told in two languages, thereby making it more accessible to certain minority communities. You can speak to minority children, mirror their experiences and create characters and situations they can relate to. This kinship is something English-only authors would have a harder time finding.
(Racial diversity is an important subject to be developed in American literature, especially since according to the US Census Bureau’s 2012 report, most children under one year old were racial minorities.)
In other news, a study of 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 found a gender imbalance in the content of these books. Male animals were 2.5 times more likely to play the central character for children’s stories than female counterparts. This gender imbalance provides more fertile ground for a budding writer to find a niche in, and again, this gives bilingual writers or writers working in a second language a chance to break into a developing market.
Lastly, children’s lit still has a ways to go in exploring many aspects of humanity. In addition to racial, gender and cultural issues, it has yet to effectively tackle certain social arrangements—like having two mothers in a family, or the issue of disability—on a large scale. So the bilingual writer can cater to these issues and find meaningful work.
Knowing another language isn’t just knowing a different set of labels for the same things or ascribing a different set of sounds for the same concepts. Another language is essentially another view of the world, a different set of spectacles for certain experiences. This flexibility in thinking, this malleability in cognition, is helpful in tackling unorthodox subjects like the ones above and this is exactly what a bilingual author can bring to the table.
5. Blogger, Speaker and Seller
The best example of someone who has built a career in this way is Benny Lewis, the guy behind the site Fluent in 3 Months. He’s an Irish polyglot, language hacker and globetrotter who preaches the value of making mistakes in learning a new language.
He’s spoken at TED conferences and has a celebrated book: “Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World.”
Now, I’m not saying you should put up a blog just like his, but you can open yourself up when it comes to your own language learning: Write about and share genuine experiences, even your vulnerabilities. Benny talks about learning new languages as well as he does because that’s what his days are all about.
He also shares pictures of his travels. Now, if you cringe at the sight of your own picture on Facebook, then you’re going to have a harder time becoming “human” in the blogosphere. Because your readers not only want to know that there’s a real person—with warts, flaws and all—behind the posts, they want to know what you’re really all about.
So reply to as many comments as you can. Make friends with your readers. Connect with them on a personal level. This is the key. Time-consuming, yes, but the key.
Benny also writes reviews about products (books, programs, websites, software) he’s tried on the road to becoming a polyglot. He shares what works, or rather what worked for him, and trusts readers to pick up what resonates with them.
You may have different experiences than him. (Well, you’ll definitely have different experiences.) That’s a good thing. Share that with your audience.
But most importantly, your blog must be meeting a specific language need or it must have a particular angle, rather than just being a general repository of your rants. For example, if you know Spanish and also love to cook, you could put up a blog called something like My Spanish Kitchen, where you not only dish out recipes but include language learning lessons with them. Benny’s particular angle is that he can make you fluent in three months, which is a pretty exciting call to action.
The “speaker” and “seller” part really come after you have a considerable following for your blog. That’s why you need to be genuine in your posts and share what you’re really all about. This makes your readers feel like they’ve known you forever. It makes them want to meet you in person. So when you announce an appearance, they’ll come in droves and make a day of it.
6. YouTuber or Podcaster
Ever think about having your own language learning TV show or radio show?
With modern technology, you can—in minutes! Bypass all the big media conglomerates, head over to YouTube and create your own channel. (Or in the case of podcasts, download the free recording software Audacity.)
So you’ve got your own YouTube channel to house all those wonderful videos. Now what?
The first thing you need to do in order to shape your content is to survey the landscape and learn from what other YouTubers are doing. Because here’s the thing: You don’t need to totally reinvent the wheel. You just need a flavor that’s all your own. See what works for others, then inject your personality into your own language learning videos. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious (but interesting).
Here are some language learning channels on YouTube to get you started:
- Speak English With Misterduncan (English)
- Señor Jordan (Spanish)
- Alexa Polidoro (French)
- Deutsch Happen (German)
- Learn Chinese with Emma (Chinese)
- Bobby Judo (Japanese)
Notice how these language teachers don’t waste their viewers’ time. They have real, actionable substance in their videos—not fluff. The same is true with podcasts. They should be informative enough to be worth the listeners’ time.
If you love the anonymity of radio, and would love to share some language lessons, podcasts might be for you. If YouTube is about videos, podcasts are all about audio. Unlike video lessons, podcasts allow listeners to multitask so you can deliver your lessons while people are doing something else—like commuting to work, waiting in line or enjoying a fresh brew.
But the challenges of YouTube and podcasts are the same. You have to market yourself to your audience. You need to know who they are and where they’re hanging out online. And there are some specific things you need to do to build your audience: Here are some YouTube ideas and podcasting insights to get you started.
7. Tour Guide
Imagine you’re a tourist in a foreign land. You don’t speak the language and don’t know your way around. Home feels like yesterday’s dream. Wouldn’t you feel dramatically relieved if someone who spoke your language took you around and explained to you what the inscriptions on those statues mean?
In fact, wouldn’t you want to pay the person who can do this for you? Wouldn’t it make your vacation much more meaningful to have somebody explain to you the context, history or rationale of the things you’re looking at or the places that you visit? Wouldn’t it take away so much stress if every time you wanted to go to the bathroom, you didn’t have to spend 15 minutes hunting for the person with the “right demeanor” to ask where it was?
Looked at this way, one can easily ascertain why many tourists would choose international tour packages arranged by their own countrymen instead of those in the target country.
A tour guide who can bridge the language and cultural gap for tourists is a prime commodity. In a world made smaller by modern transportation and technology, where travel has become the norm, the guide who speaks the language of their clients will be the most sought after. According to euromonitor.com, the travel industry is set to post record healthy growth from 2014-2019, with China leading the way in outbound tourism.
The Chinese are coming!
And they’re bringing their cameras with them.
8. Liaison Officer
A liaison officer coordinates the activities of two parties.
Let’s say two companies resolve to work together on a big project. They each would send a liaison officer who would discuss with their counterpart matters like information sharing, scheduling, managing expectations, etc. In short, liaison officers are the face and the force of the parties they represent. Likewise, the position requires relationship building. Liaison officers are the glue that holds two distinct parties together.
In a rapidly globalizing and internationalizing society, we expect more joint activities from large corporations that may not only be culturally distinct but also linguistically different. There’s a bridging function that needs to be filled by folks who can effectively facilitate communication between these entities. Being a liaison officer goes beyond the job of an interpreter or a translator because liaising requires a more active role in the whole process.
If coordination and communication are your strong suits, give this job a try. You’ll be exposed to many different types of people and organizations that will inevitably enrich your view of the world. In short, you’ll win.
9. (Field) Researcher
Much of human knowledge, especially from times past, is not recorded in the English language. For example, the Chinese, Arab and Hindu civilizations have made discoveries and insights that are still waiting to be discovered by the rest of the world.
There aren’t enough people working on certain ancient texts and rediscovering them has been painfully slow. We can’t leave this enormous task squarely on the shoulders of a few National Geographic researchers! So if you’re excited about unveiling knowledge of the past, then put that extra language to good use as a researcher. You’ll be making a contribution that will advance human knowledge immeasurably.
How about field research? How might a bilingual put an extra language to good use there?
I’m not just talking here about going into the middle of the desert and doing excavations or working on ancient sites. Field research also encompasses issues that closely relate to us today. Market research and environmental research are examples. Let’s say a project’s goal is to find out how developments in an area have affected environmental conditions. You need to talk to people about it, in addition to looking at the condition of the water and soil samples.
A large part of research is actually talking to people and directly asking pertinent questions, with the quality of research often depending on the quality of data yielded in such interviews.
And the thing is, if you want people to open up, let down their guard and share more of their true feelings on an issue, you should send in someone who can speak in their own tongue. This is where a bilingual speaker comes in. You bridge the language of the people in the field and the language of record (the language the research will be written in).
If you want to meet interesting people and be on the cutting edge of the issues of today, why don’t you give field research a try?
10. Product Localization Manager
Did you know that McDonald’s, the world’s biggest seller of burgers, doesn’t even have a Big Mac on their menu in India? They instead have the Maharaja Mac, a beef-less variation. This is because cows are venerated in India and the company doesn’t want to insult the religious beliefs of the people they serve.
It may not be obvious, but even a highly standardized company like McDonald’s specializes their products according to location. Israel has had the McShawarma and Japan the Mega Teriyaki Mac, for example.
A localization manager is needed in order to roll out these products correctly—which includes product research and development, labeling and marketing. A bilingual who not only speaks the language but also intimately understands the sensibilities of the people in a particular country can be excellent at this job.
Product localization managers ensure that the good intentions of the company are properly translated, lest the whole thing look over-patronizing and backfire.
And so we round up 10 of the jobs available for people who carry a second language.
If you’re someone who speaks only English, why don’t you start learning a new language today?
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