Foreign language study can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, especially if you are able to apply your knowledge in an environment where the language is spoken by natives.
Will this study lead to a career? In some cases intensive study of foreign language can indeed lead directly to a career. In other cases, people find that their experiences with language and culture influence the course of their career. Many experts advise that foreign language studies be combined with other studies, such as education, business, political science, law, etc. Knowledge of a foreign language may give you a competitive edge in both job-seeking and on the job.
Many career possibilities are described below. Forming goals early and planning for training is the most effective means of landing a job that incorporates knowledge of a foreign language. There is an even stronger chance that your knowledge of “things foreign” will have positive effects in other facets your life—in your ability to communicate in general, in your ability to interact with people from diverse backgrounds, in your understanding of global issues and even in your perspective on American viewpoints.
If you pursue your interests in foreign language and invest serious study, you will certainly reap rewards. Ideally, you will find a way to enhance your studies by going abroad and sharpening your skills in an environment where the language embodies the culture.
Teaching Languages in the United States
The field of foreign language teaching has seen a toughening of standards in recent years. One may find that a rather high level of competency is required to secure teaching positions. For this reason, one should consider study abroad options during one’s undergraduate program. Teaching positions are available at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. Those who choose to teach high school should consider gaining certification in two languages in order to enhance employability and stay competitive.
Teaching English Abroad
Teaching English abroad is an excellent way to improve knowledge of a foreign language and gain valuable experience. While ESL teachers are generally not paid well, the experience one gains is very important for a future career in foreign language. For further information on the current availability of job openings and requirements contact:
The federal government is the largest employer in the United States. A sampling of governmental agencies that require employees with a knowledge of one or more foreign languages is provided below.
- The State Department employs about four thousand foreign service officers, whose duties range from administrative, consular, economic, and political in 230 embassies around the world. Foreign language majors who are willing to develop other areas of expertise (computers, business administration, communications, management banking etc.) stand a good chance of being hired
- The FBI is currently in need of linguists in order to aid in the enforcement of federal statues in such crimes as terrorism, public corruption, organized crime, and bribery. Depending upon the nature of the position acquired, one may be highly involved in the investigative procedure, including surveillance or interviewing witnesses
Banking and Finance
The cornerstone of international business and commerce is banking, and it is within the international banking institutions that many may find suitable positions requiring knowledge of a foreign language. It is important to keep in mind that it is the understanding of cultural nuances that often accompanies knowledge of a foreign language that is often seen as most valuable. As a result, one should keep this fact in mind when marketing oneself in the realm of international banking and commerce and business, in general.
Travel and Tourism
Hotels, cruise ships, and airlines actively recruit foreign language majors in order to facilitate a high level of customer service. It is in perhaps these positions that a high level of proficiency in a foreign language may not be required. In other words, cultural sensitivity and an ability to relate and communicate with people seems to be an equally high priority.
A degree in a foreign language is often seen as quite relevant to the public relations scene. Majors are trained to the sensitivities of language and culture and are often adept at finding diplomatic ways to represent companies while maintaining an understanding of how images, words, and language are interpreted by the public. For information regarding these positions, consult Gale’s Public Relations Career Directory.
The field of international advertising is a highly specialized field in which knowledge of a foreign language and culture greatly facilitates better and more profitable business relationships with foreign countries. The goal of American international advertising is to promote American products overseas. Significant knowledge of foreign language and culture seems to provide a special edge over other applicants for these positions.
With the increase in media based language programs, there has been an expansion of opportunities within publishing. On the whole, publishing houses have an editorial staff composed of people who are quite familiar with two, three, or four modern foreign languages. Recording studios also retain employees to develop and update language videos
Lawyers who work with members of ethnic, minority, and immigrant groups, perform legal aid work, or specialize in international law, maritime law, or international business law, discover that proficiency in a foreign language is a very good asset.
Many may find that their career goals in foreign language require an increase in competency. An excellent way to facilitate further study and practice of one’s target language is to volunteer. A myriad of volunteer opportunities involving foreign language exist both abroad and in the U.S.
The most prominent governmental volunteer organization is the Peace corps. All 6,000 Peace Corps volunteers must receive training in the language of the country to which they are assigned. Getting accepted to the Peace Corps is often dependent upon whether or not one can demonstrate a useful skill, often in the areas of education, engineering, and medicine. If one prefers to remain in the U.S., the domestic counterpart of the Peace Corps is VISTA, which seeks volunteers who know French, Spanish, or Indian languages.
Many religious organizations have relief programs and missionary programs that function overseas. Few discriminate on the basis of religious denomination, but there are exceptions.
Volunteer work can be extremely valuable and rewarding, and often it allows interaction in a foreign culture and practice with the language in a very hands-on, goal oriented setting. The following is a listing of service organizations that function abroad:
The Modern Language Association has produced brochures promoting language study. Find them here.