Among Brits, knowing a second language is rare – about three quarters of us can’t hold a conversation in anything but English – and it makes you stand out to employers. Some roles you’re suited to use your language skills directly. Others benefit from the soft skills you’ve developed – flexibility, communication, cultural awareness, and many more. Here are just a few of the career paths you could take.
One of the most obvious careers for a linguist, translation involves taking a document in one language and converting it to another – usually your mother tongue. It’s a highly sought-after skill. Translators are needed by international retailers, investment banks, the EU and UN, and almost any other organisation that operates in more than one country.
Most translators are freelance and get work through agencies or word of mouth. You can set your own hours and work from home, giving you flexibility to travel or look after children.
Further study is a big help for a translation career. You’re far more likely to find employment if you have a master’s degree in translation, or a professional qualification from an accredited body.
Your income as a translator will depend on the type of work you do. Translating specialist texts – such as pharmaceutical literature – will earn you more.
Interpreting is the spoken version of translation, and comes in many forms – from simultaneous translation of a conference presentation to the traditional image of an interpreter helping a foreign client communicate with the local people. Interpreting has a lot of similarities to translation, but it makes for a very different day-to-day life. Interpreting is a role for people with stamina and excellent concentration – you’ll be thinking fast for long periods of time with few breaks. While you’re likely to work freelance through an agency, you’re unlikely to be able to work from home, and may need to do a good deal of travelling.
Like translation, the earnings from interpreting are very variable. The prize roles for an interpreter are permanent roles at the EU or UN, which can earn you upwards of £60,000.
To become qualified to teach a language in a UK secondary school you can either do a one-year PGCE course (PGDE in Scotland), or a take school based training route. Modern language teachers are currently highly in demand, and you’ll be offered strong financial incentives to train. If you graduate with at least a 2:2 you can receive a bursary of £25,000 or a scholarship of £27,500 during your PGCE.
Your teaching options aren’t limited to secondary schools. Your basic understanding of linguistics also makes you well-suited to teaching English as a foreign language. Some EFL teachers work in the UK, either in private language schools or teaching English to immigrants and refugees. Others work abroad. Usually overseas contracts are short term, meaning you can experience living in a variety of different countries over the space of a few years. Find out how much you can earn as a teacher.
To get a job teaching EFL, you’re likely to need a specialist teaching certificate. These courses take around 5 weeks full time.
As a consultant, your job is to solve other people’s problems. Consultancy firms give businesses expert advice – perhaps in management, HR, strategy, or even IT. Big management consultancy firms recruit directly out of universities, snapping up smart, motivated graduates with excellent problem-solving skills. Take this short course with Bright Network Academy if you want to learn how to get into consulting.
Because most of the big management consultancy firms are international, modern language graduates are often a good fit for consultancy roles. You’re used to relating to other cultures and will be comfortable working abroad. Depending on where your company operates, you may have the opportunity to use the language directly in your work.
A huge perk of a consulting career is the salary. You’ll start at £30-40k and could be earning £60k within just a few years.
It’s one of the most competitive sectors out there, so you’ll need to work hard to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Consultancy firms have fewer internship schemes than investment banks, so you’ll need to work to gather relevant experience in your own way.
Language graduates are good at gathering and assessing information about different cultures, are experienced at listening and writing, and have excellent attention to detail – so it’s no surprise that many are attracted to journalism.
You don’t need to study English or journalism at undergraduate level to succeed. Professionals in the industry advise a degree in a serious subject, followed by a journalism MA or short course to give you vital practical skills. And, particularly at international news agencies like Reuters, it’s a huge advantage to have a couple of foreign languages under your belt.
International development is a broad area that involves working with developing countries, with goals such as preventing disease, improving infrastructure, or making education more widely available. As a language graduate, your interest in other cultures is likely to make international development roles rewarding.
While many international development roles are for trained medics, engineers and other specialists, others are open to all graduates. You might get involved in training, administration, communications or research. Often, the roles you can take will depend on the languages you speak – but as a language graduate you’ll find it easier than most to get a grip on a new language quickly.
A small percentage of graduate schemes at multinational corporations are located abroad. Many others, such as consulting roles and banking, allow the possibility for travel.
You can also apply directly to an overseas employer. Before you do this, you’ll need to do some serious research the local job market. If a country has a lack of skilled candidates in an industry that interests you, you’re likely to get a role, along with a visa sponsorship from your employer if you need one.
Bright Network is always here to support your career. As a member, we can offer tailored advice to help you discover what to do with your language degree. Don’t hesitate to give our membership team a call – 0203 011 1612.
Browse graduate opportunities with Bright Network
Whether you're ready to apply for graduate schemes, or you simply want to see what's out there. Use our trusty application deadline list for all available graduate schemes to get started.