Linguist Careers in Hot Demand

Career Advice

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Would you like a career that the Department of Labor estimates will have 42 percent more job openings between now and 2020? How about one with a median pay of $20.82 per hour? If the job could involve travel, or living overseas for a period of time, would it interest you?

Fluency in a foreign language may be the key to an exciting, well-paying career, according to a recent report on CNN. The U.S. Department of Labor finds that translators and interpreters will be one of the 15 fastest growing occupations between now and 2020. The demand for people who are bilingual or multilingual is far exceeding the supply.

The demand for language speakers is based upon the needs of the day. Right now, for example, the Federal government would like to hire people fluent in Arabic, Farsi, Dari and Pashto. Businesses want people who can speak Chinese, Japanese and Hindi, languages tied to trade. At a more local level, police departments, hospitals and social service agencies are looking to fill positions for pockets of local non-English speaking residents, Somali in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Russian in New York City’s Brighton Beach, Hmong in Galveston.

Immersion is commonly recognized as the best way to speak two or more languages fluently. If English is your second language or you grew up in a home where English and a second language were both spoken, you have a leg up in entering a career as a translator or interpreter. If you are solely an English speaker but want to learn another language, you still can become fluent but it will take some work.

College students should take every opportunity to study abroad in a city where their chosen second language is spoken. Language students should also find local associations, churches, or fraternal groups where the language is spoken. Most large cities have a Chinatown, Little Italy or another equivalent where a student can shop, eat and take up residence. Churches may offer services in the language of their parishioners, Polish, Korean, and other native tongues.

For anyone wanting to develop fluency, the Internet is a key resource. Virtually every language is broadcast via the web, in print, and in voice or video. Just as so many non-English speakers use the BBC version of English, so, too, should you consider the government media of a country as the standard for the native language. Your grandfather’s accent and word choices, as well as his dialect, may carry cultural labels that standard pronunciation and vocabulary do not. An employer does not want their translator seen as a hick or hillbilly.

The CNN article makes a very good point. Your chances for employment increase greatly if you have a technical skill as well as second language fluency. The piece notes an open position requiring fluent Japanese and an engineering background. Learning a technical vocabulary in a foreign language may be far more important than learning to order off the menu.

If all else fails, and you are hopelessly a geek, there are a few openings for Klingon translators and interpreters. In August, the Chicago Tribune noted that the Illinois Department of Employment Security  was offering information in Klingon but had no one on staff as a translator. It may be a better plan to learn Albanian, Urdu or even Esperanto than to devote your live to learning Dothraki, Na’vi, Klingon, or Elvish, however.

Charles Simmins brings thirty years of accounting and management experience to his coverage of the news. An upstate New Yorker, he is a freelance journalist, former volunteer firefighter and EMT, and is owned by a wife and four cats.