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Bilingual Jobs and Careers

Being fluent in languages can open the door to some interesting jobs. Naturally, many are based around the language itself and involve translation or interpreting services, not to mention teaching languages.

For non-language based professions, having a second language can help you to work in interesting positions abroad - e.g. IT, finance, business and commerce, sales, etc.

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Here, we introduce some of the former group of language-based professions and look at the other skills needed to gain the best jobs. These jobs are often mistakenly lumped together as one, but there are many differences in skills, training and personal attributes needed for each.

Translator

The job is fairly as you'd expect: these professionals translate text from one language to another. The text involved may be corporate literature, instruction manuals, business documents, legal articles, website text, etc. Less commonly, it may involve books for publication, but this is a further specialism in the field.

Translators need to be able to express themselves well - it is not enough to be proficient in a language, as a translator needs to convey the feel or mood of the writing as well as the content. A translator therefore needs to be articulate in their maiden language and also in the foreign language (or languages) they are going to work with.

Depending on the nature of the material being worked on, a translator may not need to be fluent in the foreign language, but highly skilled in writing it. A knowledge of specialist terminology, appropriate to the industry concerned, may be required, as well as an understanding of the culture involved. The translator will usually use dictionaries and other reference sources.

Employment: Some large international organisations employ translators, but most translators are usually self-employed, working for agencies or directly for clients they have sourced themselves. Payment is usually related to the length of the original text.

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Interpreter

Interpreting is often confused with translation, but it is quite different. Interpreters work with the spoken word rather than the written word, acting as a communication link between different parties at conferences or meetings, courts, police stations or wherever interpretation is required.

Interpreting can be one of two different types. Simultaneous interpreting takes place at conferences, where the interpreter listens on headphones and gives a spoken translation to listeners. The interpreter is usually listening to a foreign language and speaking in their native language. This type of interpreting is also done at meetings, court cases, in police stations and hospitals.

Consecutive interpreting usually takes place at smaller meetings, when gaps are left in the dialogue for the interpreter to offer spoken translations in both directions. These interpreters often work with business people at meetings, in court cases or when politicians are meeting.

There's little to no time to think in interpreting, so the role can be quite stressful and tiring. At big events, team of simultaneous interpreters usually work together, each working for sessions of 20 minutes or less before handing over to another team member.

To become an interpreter, you need to be able to interpret both ways: to and from your native tongue, without using a dictionary. You therefore need to be fluent in the spoken form of the second language, as well as having knowledge of any required specialist language. Not only this, you have to be able to listen in one language and speak in another at the same time.

Employment: Some large international organisations employ interpreters, good examples being the European Parliament and the United Nations. Many interpreters are self-employed and work via agencies or directly for clients.

Linguist

Linguistics is an area of scientific study that is concerned with language itself. Specialist areas include theoretical linguistics and applied linguistics.

Employment: linguists are usually academics working in universities and colleges, although researchers often work in consulting firms, research organisations and private companies.

Language Teacher

Many people who are bilingual or who have studied and learned a second language go on to teach one of those languages. They may teach their native language to foreign students, or vice versa. If teaching the foreign/second language, they need to be extremely fluent in it.

Employment: language teachers work in language schools at home or abroad, or work in schools and colleges where students are focusing on the language as a subject option. They may also teach at evening classes. Language teachers may study the foreign language and then take a postgraduate qualification in teaching, or may study language and teaching in an education degree.

Private Tutor

Another area of teaching, which allows more flexibility, is private tuition. Many people find it hard to learn languages in a classroom situation and benefit enormously from one-to-one attention. A private tutor who offers fluency in the client's native language and the tongue they wish to learn is often highly sought after.

Tutors can work with children needing more attention than is possible at school, adults trying to acquire a second language for personal or professional reasons, or non-native speaking migrants newly arrived in the country.

Employment: private tutors are self-employed and usually find work through their own efforts, particularly advertising in local publications and online. They may also find work through local schools and colleges.

Community Work

In districts where there are different communities speaking foreign languages, there are often opportunities for bilingual people to work with community organisations. Besides interpreting, these roles can involve providing information to ensure that nobody is excluded from public services due to language differences.

Employment: Community workers with languages may be employed on a part-time basis by health clinics, churches, housing associations and other charities keen to increase access to their services. Refugee associations also need interpreters regularly.

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