Language skills can be incredibly valuable in both our personal and professional lives. And whether you’re fluent in two or more languages or are still learning, there are a variety of roles in which you can use them.
With that said, we’ve put together a list of eight job roles that use language skills.
1. Modern foreign languages (MFL) teacher
Would you like to use your language skills to inspire the young minds of the future? If so, you could consider a career as a modern foreign language (MFL) teacher.
Modern foreign language teachers teach students languages such as French, German, and Spanish from primary school age, all the way up to the end of their secondary education. Daily duties will include lesson planning, teaching classes, and hosting assessments.
To become a modern foreign languages teacher, you’ll need to be fluent in the language you want to teach. You’ll also need to reach what’s called Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which you’ll get after completing your Initial Teacher Training (ITT). You can gain QTS by taking a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), either through a school-led or university-led approach.
If you’d prefer to start by working in a school and building on your teaching qualification from there, then you could consider applying to the Now Teach programme. The programme is designed to understand and respect the leap of faith that people take when they consider starting a teaching degree later in life – and its wrap-around support aims to make sure that people remain in the profession long term.
However, in order to join Now Teach (or to take any other school-led approach), you’ll need to first have an undergraduate degree.
Alternatively, you can take a university-led approach, which involves studying an undergraduate degree in a modern foreign languages subject, and then completing a postgraduate teaching course. However, if you take this approach, you’ll also have to gain work experience with pupils from the age group that you want to teach. This isn’t always not made available on your course, so you may have to arrange it yourself.
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2. Teach English as a foreign language (TEFL)
If you like the sound of using language skills in a teaching capacity but aren’t completely fluent in a foreign language, then try not to be disheartened. Instead of becoming a modern foreign languages teacher, you could consider teaching English as a foreign language – often referred to as TEFL.
As a TEFL teacher, your duty would be to help non-native speakers of English learn it from scratch or improve on their existing language skills. And, as English is such a coveted language, TEFL teachers often get to travel all over the world.
Although knowing a foreign language isn’t a requirement to become a TEFL teacher, any foreign language skills you have or can learn will undoubtedly be invaluable – as you may be travelling to foreign countries and teaching pupils who don’t have a full understanding of the English language.
TEFL salaries vary greatly, depending on where you teach and how experienced you are. However, many employers also offer free flights, accommodation, and other perks.
The journey to becoming a qualified TEFL teacher is relatively straightforward, and the best way to do so is to sign up for an accredited TEFL course. This should give you all of the necessary skills, knowledge, and confidence that you need to teach English as a foreign language in-person, online, or both.
To become qualified, you’ll have to complete a minimum amount of TEFL training. Then, once you’ve gained your TEFL certificate, you can start applying for positions anywhere in the world. Many people find TEFL an appealing option because of the opportunity to travel, meet new people, and have interesting cultural experiences.
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Have you ever read English versions of books by foreign authors like Victor Hugo or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Or even an instruction manual from Ikea? If so, then this is thanks to the work of a translator.
Translators convert written work from one language (the source language) to another. They translate anything from product manuals and academic writing, to film and television subtitles and novels – and they usually choose to specialise in one area.
Translators tend to work by converting the source language into their own mother tongue (the target language), and not the other way around.
In order to become a translator, you’ll need a fluent (near-native) understanding of the language you want to translate and a deep understanding of the culture and/or country(ies) that it comes from. The ideal candidate will also have excellent writing and research skills, as well as a keen eye for detail to make sure meanings are conveyed as accurately as possible.
In a lot of cases, you’ll need an undergraduate degree in either the language that you plan to translate or a combined degree that mixes language skills with a particular subject, such as literature or biology.
A combined degree is particularly helpful if you plan on specialising in a particular area – such as translating movie scripts or novels. A postgraduate degree in translation or an equivalent degree will also lend you credibility as a freelancer and make you more employable.
If you don’t have a degree but you’re fluent in two or more languages, you’ll need to gain relevant experience before applying for positions. And you can do this by volunteering as a translator. Websites like TED and Wikipedia are always looking for volunteers to make their content accessible for people all around the world.
Once you’ve built up an extensive portfolio, you can start applying to jobs. For more information on how to become a translator without a degree, you might want to check out this comprehensive guide from Translation and Interpreting.
As a translator, you can either work as a freelancer or become employed at an institution. In-house translators can earn anything between £18,000 to £50,000 and will typically work 37-40 hours per week. As a freelancer, however, you’ll be able to set your own rates – with prices usually being calculated by word count.
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4. Oral interpreter
Translators and interpreters both convert one language into another. However, while translators do so with written work, interpreters do so with spoken or signed language.
Oral interpreters work in a variety of settings, from large conferences to one-on-one meetings, such as doctor’s appointments and social work settings. Therefore, the roles and responsibilities of an interpreter vary depending on where they’re working.
For example, if you’re working at a large public speaking event, you might use what’s called simultaneous interpretation, where you’ll translate what’s being said in real-time to an individual or a small group of people. Whereas, if you’re working in a one-on-one meeting or negotiation, you might use what’s called liaison interpretation, which involves interpreting two ways, often only a few sentences or phrases at a time.
In some cases, such as larger business meetings and presentations, you might be required to use consecutive interpretation. This involves listening to the entirety of what the speaker says (which can range anywhere from a few sentences to an entire speech) before relaying it to the listener(s) in the target language.
An ideal candidate for the role of an oral interpreter will not only have a fluent understanding of two or more languages but also an excellent understanding of the country(ies) and culture(s) that they come from. They should also have great listening and organisational skills, a sharp memory, confident speaking ability, and be able to concentrate for long periods of time.
For most interpreter roles, employers will be looking for applicants with an undergraduate degree in modern languages, or in interpretation and translation. However, this is not always the case.
Employers – especially those in the public sector – will also take into consideration relevant experience such as time spent volunteering, or if you’ve worked or lived in a foreign country and used your language skills on a day-to-day basis.
The majority of interpreting jobs are offered on a freelance basis. However, there are opportunities to work in-house for an organisation too. And while earnings vary greatly, it’s usually calculated by the hour and will depend on your experience and qualifications.
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5. British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter
If you want to become an interpreter, you aren’t limited to just spoken languages. British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters are important for helping deaf and hearing people communicate with one another by converting spoken language into sign, and vice versa.
Much of the roles and responsibilities of a BSL interpreter are the same as an oral interpreter. However, the majority of interpretation is done simultaneously. As a BSL interpreter, you can work in a range of different settings, for instance, in classrooms, hospitals, court hearings, and so on.
Like an oral interpreter, BSL interpreters can choose between working in-house for institutions or as a freelancer. The National Careers Service estimates that in-house BSL interpreters can earn anywhere from £20,000 to £35,000, and freelancers can charge between £20 and £30 per hour.
To become a BSL interpreter, you’ll first need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject or a level six award in BSL. You’ll then need to complete a postgraduate degree or a level six award in interpreting and translation. After this, you’ll become what’s referred to as a ‘registered interpreter’.
If you don’t want to go to university, you can become a registered interpreter by first signing up to become a trainee sign language interpreter. However, before you can do this, you’ll need to complete your level six award in BSL.
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6. Flight attendant
Do you fancy travelling around the globe and having a chance to use your foreign language skills on a day-to-day basis? If so, then why not consider a career as a flight attendant?
As a flight attendant, it would be your job to make sure airline passengers are safe and comfortable for the duration of their flight. The roles and responsibilities include food and drink preparation and service, making sure that safety procedures are followed, and providing general information and assistance to passengers.
Foreign language skills would be especially handy in this role as you’d be interacting with people from all over the world. Customers usually appreciate and feel more comfortable with a service if it’s conducted in their native language – even if it’s just a greeting.
The ideal candidate for a flight attendant position would be someone friendly, who’s keen to provide excellent customer service, has good communication skills, and can stay calm in high-pressure situations.
To become a flight attendant, it’s best to apply directly with airlines, who, once you’ve been accepted, will enter you into an intensive four to five-week training program where you’ll learn all the skills and knowledge needed to be a flight attendant.
The typical starting salary for a flight attendant is around £14,000, potentially rising to as high as £30,000. However, you’ll also receive a whole host of benefits, such as reduced flight costs, and your expenses and accommodation covered when staying away from home.
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7. Travel agent
Going on holiday is one of the things many of us look forward to above all else. But between booking flights and hotels, and organising activities, planning your trip can often become a tricky and time-consuming process.
This is where a travel agent steps in, to not only give people a great holiday experience but to make the preparation and planning process as simple and stress-free as possible.
As a travel agent, your job would be to act as a hub of information, giving customers advice on where to stay, how to get there, and what to do once they’re there – doing all you can to help them have the best holiday experience possible.
Your role would also include arranging things like rental cars and insurance; handling payments, and liaising with holiday providers to find the best deals for your clients.
Because a large part of a travel agent’s job is interacting with people – whether that be with customers or holiday providers – an ideal candidate for the role would be, above all, an excellent communicator. Being able to communicate with holiday providers in their native language will allow you to establish great working relationships and get the best deals for your customers.
An ideal candidate for the role of a travel agent will also have good research, sales, and organisational skills – as well as a genuine passion for travel.
You don’t need any specific qualifications to become a travel agent. In fact, many agencies will accept candidates with little to no experience in the travel industry and give them on-the-job training. But your language skills are sure to give you an edge when applying for these roles.
Trainee travel agents will typically start on a salary of around £18,000, while an experienced travel agent might earn up to £27,000. You’ll also earn a healthy commission for each holiday you organise as well as discounted travel.
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8. Hotel staff
Wherever they may be, hotels see thousands of different people from all over the globe pass through their doors every year. So whether you’re a receptionist, a concierge, or a manager, foreign language skills will be invaluable when working at a hotel.
The hotel industry offers a wide range of jobs with all different kinds of roles and responsibilities.
For example, a hotel receptionist’s duties may include greeting guests and checking them in and out of the hotel, allocating rooms and handing out keys, as well as answering any questions about the hotel and the surrounding area. While a hotel manager’s roles and responsibilities usually include organising and overseeing the services that the hotel provides.
Regardless of your position in a hotel, your job will be, first and foremost, to make sure that your guests have the most pleasant stay possible – and your foreign language skills can be a huge part of this. Just by greeting one of your guests in their native language, you can make them feel right at home.
Some hotel roles, like a receptionist and a housekeeper, don’t require any formal qualifications, so you can apply for entry-level positions and receive on-the-job training. If you want to apply for management positions, however, then you have a few options.
You can either study for a university degree in hotel management or a related subject, or you can apply for an apprenticeship in hospitality management. In some cases, you may even be able to start at an entry-level position and work your way up to become a manager.
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Whether it’s making someone feel at home on a flight by greeting them in their native language or helping deaf and hearing people connect with one another, there are a variety of jobs in which you can use your language skills to bring people together.
If you don’t feel that any of the roles here are right for you, but you’d still be interested in developing your language skills, why not take a look at our articles; 6 languages that are easier for English speakers to learn or An introduction to British Sign Language (BSL)? Or, if you’re especially interested in travel-related jobs, check out these roles that will take you around the world.
Whether you’re looking to improve your skills in a certain language or learn a new one entirely, we also have a range of language courses available on our site that can help you.