15 Cool Jobs That Need Foreign Language Skills

Learning a language can change your life—and your career.

In this post, I’ll dive into some of the best jobs for people who speak another language.

In so doing, I hope to encourage you to start learning a new language and increase your work options at the same time—plus other awesome benefits.

So keep reading for 15 exciting careers that use languages!

Contents

1. Classroom Teacher

If you speak a language, you may be able to teach that language to others!

You’ll probably need at least a degree in the language you want to teach, plus certifications—proof that you are ready and qualified for the work of teaching it.

Pick the teaching route if you love the idea of interacting with students and feel at home in a classroom environment. If you enjoy the stability and formality of classes, then you’ll likely love being on the other side of the classroom, too.

There’s nothing as fulfilling as mentoring language learners and knowing that you’re making a positive contribution to their lives and studies.

The reality, of course, is that many fluent speakers don’t actually have the requisite teaching credentials, even if they’re perfectly able to teach the language to others. If you fall into this camp, pay special attention to the next two options.

2. Private Tutor

A private tutor is much like a classroom teacher but often works on a one-on-one and face-to-face basis. Sessions typically 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 the methods you use to teach. This is one of the big draws of private tutoring.

One drawback, however, is that as a freelancer you usually have to work the marketing side of the job. You have to put yourself out there and get yourself noticed and known.

To get started on this, you can try posting your services on sites like Craigslist, eBay or Oodle.

Of course, the number of potential clients depends on the demand in your local area. Even if there is high demand, it will likely take a significant amount of work to get a decent number of students, especially on a consistent basis—though it can certainly be done.

3. Online Tutor

If you’d like a little more freedom beyond what classroom teaching and private tutoring can offer, this is the third route.

Indeed, many choose online tutoring because they love the flexibility it brings. If the idea of working whenever and wherever appeals to you, then consider becoming 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 a great 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 likely find a good number of students heading your way quickly.

Verbling also simplifies the entire online teaching experience, streamlining your online classroom so you have no need for Skype or other third-party software—you can set up your teaching schedule, advertise your skills, communicate with students and hold classes right on the site.

4. Interpreter

If you’re in a language-related job but not teaching others the language, you’ll probably be doing some kind of “bridging,” or facilitating communication between different parties.

For example, when two heads of state need to talk to each other, the interpreter bridges 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 (UFC, church) where a lot of people who may not understand the speaker’s language are very much interested in what they’re 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. They’re talking through the headphones as the voices in the heads of the delegates.

You can get a sense of what it would be like to be an interpreter or practice interpreting by using an immersion program like FluentU.

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The next step is to try interpreting without the subtitles, and then you can check your translations against the video’s English subtitles. 

Interested in learning more? Here’s our fundamental five-step guide to becoming an interpreter.

5. Translator

If working next to Miss Universe isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps working with the written form of the language is more your style. 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 knows fluent English, would be an ideal person to translate English into French.

Unlike interpreters, who sometimes share the spotlight, translators typically work behind the scenes. Often, translation work can be done in the privacy of your study or wherever a Starbucks table opens up.

There are many types of translators. Here are some examples:

  • Literary translators work with books and novels. Many famous pieces of literature you know in English are actually translations of the original: “The Odyssey” (written by Homer in Greek), “The Three Musketeers” (written by Dumas in French) and “Anna Karenina” (written in Russian by Tolstoy).
  • Legal translators convert texts within the field of law, including contracts, protocols, decrees, decisions, depositions and even minutes of proceedings.
  • Medical translators translate physicians’ diagnoses, treatment plans, patient information and pharmacological instructions, as well as instruction manuals for medical equipment.

In short, every time there’s a language barrier, translators work to make a written text comprehensible for any number of readers.

To see if this is something you’d like to do, start by translating simple and short documents like letters, memos, speeches, etc. Build your skills.

Then, when you think you’re good, build them some more. You can check out this book if you think you want to pursue this path.

6. Children’s Book Writer

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 experiences. This is exactly what a bilingual author can bring to the table.

In fact, there are three notable areas in which bilingual authors have great potential for adding to children’s literature:

  • Speaking to minority children. 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.

    Bilingual authors will have a much easier time writing for minorities and people of color, mirroring their experiences and creating characters and situations they can relate to, than English-only authors can. Consider the large Hispanic and Asian American populations in the U.S., for instance.

  • Balancing out the inequality of character genders. A study of 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 found that male animals were 2.5 times more likely to play the central character than females in children’s lit.

    Tap into this gender imbalance in a non-English language (especially if you’re a female yourself), and you have a great chance of breaking into an important and as-of-yet uncrowded market.

  • Covering certain social arrangements. Kids’ books have yet to fully and effectively cover certain topics, such as having two parents of the same sex, or the issue of disability. A bilingual writer can cater to these subjects and find meaningful work.

Further, writing children’s literature is a good way to start writing, especially in your non-native language. You won’t have to compete with well-connected, well-established native speakers as much as in some other literary fields.

Kids’ books also offer a lighter writing load than novels, which gives you more time to contemplate the plot and other areas where you stand on equal ground with native speakers.

Of course, you can choose to write solely in one language, or you could write books in which the same story is told in two languages, thereby making it more accessible to minority communities and young language learners alike.

7. Blogger, Speaker and Seller

The best example of someone who has built a career in this way is Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months. He’s an Irish polyglot, language hacker and globetrotter who preaches the value of making mistakes while 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.”

Benny also shares pictures of his travels, writes reviews for language-learning products he’s tried and shares what works for him in order to pick up another tongue so quickly.

Now, I’m not saying you need to (or even should) put up a blog just like Benny’s.

But you can do something similar:

  • Open up about your own language learning. Write about and share genuine experiences, even your vulnerabilities.
  • Share photos. People connect to visual material and often are more interested in following the real person behind the blog or account.
  • Reply to comments. Answer as many people as you can. Make friends with your readers. Connect with others on a personal level. This is time-consuming but ultimately what builds a successful career in this field.

Most importantly, if you are interested in starting a blog, it must meet a specific language need or have a particular angle. It shouldn’t just be a repository of your rants or a mindless stream of your thoughts.

Benny’s angle is that he can make you fluent in three months—how exciting! If you know Spanish and also love to cook, then, you could create a blog called something like My Spanish Kitchen. You’ll not only dish out recipes but include Spanish lessons with them.

The “speaker” and “seller” parts of this language job really come after you have a considerable following as a blogger. That’s why the key is to be genuine and share what you’re really all about.

Your readers will feel like they’ve known you forever. They’ll want to meet you in person. Then, when you announce an appearance, they’ll come out in droves and really show their support.

8. 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. In the case of podcasts, download the free recording software Audacity.

To shape your content, survey the landscape and learn from what other YouTubers and podcasters 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 content.

Here are some language learning channels on YouTube to get you started:

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, of course. And if you love the anonymity of radio and would still love to share some language lessons, podcasts might be for you. If YouTube is all about videos, podcasts are all about audio.

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, where they’re hanging out online and what they want to learn. Here are some YouTube ideas and podcasting insights to get you started.

9. Tour Guide

Imagine you’re a tourist in a foreign land. You don’t speak the language and you 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? Or what that incredible-looking building is? Or where to find the best food?

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?

In fact, wouldn’t you want to pay the person who can do this for you?

Looked at in this way, it’s easy to see why many tourists choose international tour packages arranged by their own country’s citizens instead of those from the destination 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.

10. Liaison Officer

A liaison officer coordinates the activities of two parties. It goes beyond mere interpreting or translating—liaising requires a more active role in the whole process.

Let’s say two companies plan to work together on a big project. They each send a liaison officer to 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. Beyond language ability, it’s a position that also requires strong relationship-building skills.

As the economy becomes more and more international, we’ll see more joint ventures between large corporations that are both culturally and linguistically different.

People who are capable of bridging such communication and who possess strong organizational and people skills will be in high demand for this job.

11. (Field) Researcher

If you’re excited about unveiling knowledge to the world, then put that extra language to good use as a researcher.

Much of human knowledge, especially from times past, is not recorded in the English language. There aren’t enough people working on certain ancient texts, and rediscovering them has been a slow process.

For example, Chinese, Arab and Hindu civilizations have long histories. Perhaps, as a bilingual, you could glean new insight into these ancient cultures.

There’s also field research. You may immediately think of going into the desert and working on excavation sites, which is an option. But 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. That involves talking to local people just as much as looking at the condition of water and soil samples.

People tend to open up more to someone who speaks their tongue (understandably). This is where a bilingual speaker can be of great assistance—they connect the language of the people in the field and the language of record, or the language the research will be written in.

12. Product Localization Manager

It may not be obvious, but even a highly standardized company like McDonald’s specializes their products according to location.

In India, there is no Big Mac on the menu. Instead, it’s the beef-less Maharaja Mac. Cows are venerated in India and McDonald’s doesn’t want to insult the religious beliefs of the people they serve there.

A localization manager is necessary for rolling out these types of products correctly—which includes product research and development, labeling, marketing and other tasks.

Product localization managers ensure that the good intentions of the company are properly translated, lest the whole thing looks patronizing and backfire.

A bilingual who not only speaks the language but also intimately understands the sensibilities of the people in a particular country could be excellent at this job.

13. Foreign Service Officer

Ever wanted to be a key player in foreign policy? You would be, as a foreign service officer.

These are people who represent their country in international affairs, typically in a specific location abroad. These affairs might include diplomatic relations, interacting with the local population, doing embassy-related work or advancing the foreign interests of their home country.

The U.S., for example, has five types of foreign service officers: Public Diplomacy, Consular, Political, Economic and Management. Here’s an interview on Benny Lewis’s blog with an American diplomat about this career and the language use involved.

Knowing another language is obviously a benefit in this kind of field. And in fact, you could well earn bonus points on your application and incentive pay for speaking a second language before you enter the role.

14. Flight Attendant

If you love travel, why not get paid for it as a flight attendant?

While it can be somewhat difficult to break into this field of work, knowing another language can certainly be a point in your favor.

Flight attendants who speak multiple languages are ideal workers for international flights, where they must cater to people of various nationalities who often don’t share a language.

Your knowledge of Korean, for example, could make you a designated employee for flights on your airline to and from Korea.

If you’re interested in pursuing this path, you can cultivate good people skills, safety knowledge such as CPR and extensive travel experience to help you gain a leg up.

15. International Travel Agent

In this role, knowing another language may allow you to get great deals for your clients.

Say you know Japanese, and you’ve just been assigned a family who’s hoping to visit Japan on a budget. Your language skills may help you make connections on the ground so you can get discounted rates at certain hotels, with specific tour companies or something similar.

Your knowledge of a different language and culture can be the difference between designing a good trip and creating someone’s dream vacation.

Further, it would be easy to expand such a role into similar avenues that also benefit from bilingual employees: you could work with study abroad programs, international volunteer groups or foreign workers and interns.

 

And so we have 15 of the many awesome jobs available for people who know a second language!

If you’re someone who speaks only English, why not start learning a new language today?

And One More Thing...

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