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qualitycontrol's avatar

How can I get into a career using foreign languages?

Asked by qualitycontrol (2570points) March 17th, 2008 from iPhone

I have a talent for being able to pickup foreign languages easily from friends or school. How could I make a career out of it. I’m thinking of something government or a job where I travel.

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5 Answers

GD_Kimble's avatar

Work for the US State Department and get an embassy assignment.

osakarob's avatar

As you have already had exposure to foreign languages, I’m sure you know that bilingualism or multilingualism is commonplace in most of the world. Generally speaking, monolingual people, such as Americans, are outside of the norm. Because many nations have required foreign language learning throughout secondary education, there is a greater likelihood that many of the graduates will move on to achieve greater proficiency and fluency. Given that, having proficiency in a language is not necessarily enough to base a career on, although it can be. Generally, when we think of people with careers based EXCLUSIVELY on their language skills, we think of translators (written compositions from one language to another) or interpreters (simultaneous oral translations). Achieving a level of competence to become a full time translator or interpreter requires years of study and a better than average ability among proficient users of the language.

Now, using a foreign language within your chosen field of competence is another matter. There are legions of men and women around the world who use a second language at work simply for the job. LIke yourself, they may have found learning a foreign language to be fun or interesting in school and they took steps to achieve some level of competence such as studying or living abroad for a time (to acquire native like pronunciation and aural comprehension skills.) Perhaps then they chose a career which had some connection to that language.

Let me give a few examples from my own family’s life. I’m fluent in Japanese after moving to Japan after college and working in English education for 15 years. I’ve chose to live here because I like the people and the culture and I’ve acquired Japanese after years of hard work. My brother also studied Japanese in college, lived in Japan for a year and moved back to the states to work in the automobile industry. He now works for a major international auto parts supplier and uses his language skills when writing e-mails or occasional telephone calls with clients. Naturally, all of his clients are far more proficient in English than he is in Japanese, but it is a nice way for him to use his foreign language skill at work.

Although it depends on your other areas of competence, I would initially discourage you from thinking about linking your foreign language skill to a job. Language skills are simply another skill that you might bring to a job, unless you are already remarkably fluent. My brother’s son has grown up in a bilingual English/Arabic environment and will likely be 100% bilingual. However, I would never suggest that he pursue a job exclusively related to his language skills unless those skills were his only marketable ones. Examine your other strengths and interests to determine if a foreign language might be beneficial to any of them.

You didn’t give any details about your current level of education or what levels of competence you have already achieved in the foreign languages you have studied, so it makes answering your question a bit problematic. While Kimball’s answer about the State department is a legitimate one, there is a greater need to know more about your own personal and career goals before anyone could possibly give you advice on this matter.
How old are you? Which languages have you been exposed to? What levels of proficiency have you achieved? Where do you live now?

Are you finishing High School? University? Are you already in the work force?

Becoming proficient in a foreign language requires years of diligence and practice. There is a field called Second Language Acquisition which has studied how successful learners acquire fluency in a language. Joan Rubin, on SLA researcher has characterized 6 attributes of good learners. These strategic behaviors are tools that good language learners use. They are:
1) Good guessers.
2) Pay analytical attention to language form, but also to meaning.
3)They like to try out their new knowledge by “producing” in the the new language: speaking, writing, etc.
4)They monitor their own language production and that of others. (They notice how they make sentences and compare their own with that of native speakers.)
5) They constantly practice. (There are lots of ways of doing this!)
6) They cope well with feelings of vulberability for the sake of putting themselves in situations where they communicate and learn.

Do those sound like things that you do or would be willing to do to become proficient?

qualitycontrol's avatar

thanks alot for the awesome answer. I am 19 years old and in my sophomore year of college as a Food Science major. I work in the seafood industry at a food processing plant in Quality Control. When I complete 30 credits I will be eligible for a job with the USDC or the FDA. Both are government jobs with nice benefits. But I don’t think I want to do that for the rest of my life. What I love is learning about other cultures and traveling. Languages I have been exposed to so far are Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese. I can carry on a conversation in Spanish or Portuguese but the other two I’m not too fluent in. So my current goal is to land that government job and go from there. I am willing to go to school to study foreign language as well. As for those 6 strategies they sound exactly like me. Thanks again for the detailed answer.-QC

osakarob's avatar

I don’t know anything about the seafood industry or food processing, but with the recent spate of food concerns related to imported foodstuffs from China, I’m sure that there must be some benefit to having a foreign language ability with the skills you already possess. I know that the FDA licenses local production and processing plants abroad if they want to be part of the supply chain that brings food and other stuff into the United States, right? However, I would seriously doubt that many of those FDA evaluators speak the languages of the countries they go to for evaluations, do they?
As you weigh career options, don’t forget that there are associations and organizations which might look very highly on your resume if you have both experience at the USDC and a foreign language skill. To a lot of employers, the ability to speak or read another language simply says that you are are willing to put in the hard work that MOST American students are not willing to do.

I know that it seems a bit far off now, but you might also find that after you get the initial position that you want with the USDC or the FDA, there will be continual need to keep abreast of trends in those areas. Most world class scientific research is published in English, as nearly all of the most influential journals are English. However, having a foreign language skill will help you communicate with international colleagues or acquire original source material such as studies, research etc. from abroad.

As a Sophomore, it might even be a good time to check out some opportunities for study abroad. That will be the best way to improve your foreign language comprehension skills and it looks great on a resume. Furthermore, there is no greater way to get first hand experience relating to the rest of the world than by taking yourself out of your comfort zone and living somewhere else, even if it is for a semester.

qualitycontrol's avatar

yeah the FDA deffinately has a program in place that deals with importing food from other countries. Most of the fish my company processes is from China. They’ve got to do overseas inspections but I’m not sure.
The only bad thing is that I don’t have any college credits for Spanish or any other language. I can put that on a resume but I don’t know how much it’ll be worth with no coursework to back it up. I am willing to go to school to study any language though. I just really want to get a job where I can travel. I would like to study abroad but I don’t think I could afford it. I don’t live at home I pay for everything that’s mine so I would either have to work and save for something like that or try to get a scholarship. Thanks for the advice. I’m going to try and nail one of these government jobs then continue school and see where it takes me. So you live in japan? I’ve always wanted to live there. What is it like and how did you end up moving there?

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