Finding a job that uses languages: what careers are there for people with language skills?

Career January 20, 2014

By the time you read this article, it will have been translated into seven languages and read by people from dozens of countries. That is only possible because we employ people with language skills.

ESL – Language Studies Abroad is an international agency with students and staff all over the world. We work with partner schools in forty countries and rely on our team to communicate with people from many different cultures in a wide range of languages. Their language skills are essential to our business and to the experience of our students and suppliers.

Language skills open up a range of specialist careers to you, but they make you more employable to almost any company with ambition.

Language-based careers

For these jobs, you typically need a language degree and/or professional qualifications from an accredited body:


translator girl laptop

Translation is a highly flexible career. Among the perks are the opportunity to work at home, freelance, part or full-time, or in an office should you wish.

Many translators specialise in a particular field, for example legal translation, technical translation or medical translation, which ensures a steady flow of well-paid work. Other translators prefer working in a variety of industries to keep the working day more diverse.

Translation agencies often work with various freelance translators.


Interpreters take words spoken in one language and translate them into another. When this is done in real time, it is called simultaneous interpreting. When the interpreter waits for the speaker to stop before translating, it is known as consecutive interpreting.

Interpreting is a highly skilled job, as it is important to quickly express not only the words, but the emotions intended. In some very multilingual situations, speech may first be interpreted into a lingua franca like English and from that language into other languages (for example, when someone is speaking a minority language at an EU meeting).

Work for interpreters can be found in international organisations, private business, the military, health services, the courts or other public services.

Language teacher

teacher and students

Share your love of language with others. Language teaching in public schools typically requires a specific degree, which varies by country. In some countries, you will need a language degree followed by a teaching qualification.

If you want flexible work in a private language school, you will need a relevant qualification and/or experience of language teaching. If this sounds good, check out our teacher training and language teacher refresher courses here. Private language teaching can provide a decent income almost anywhere in the world.

Fields where speaking another language is a big advantage

There are many areas where language skills are an enormous advantage.


busy café

This is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and is likely to remain so in the coming decades as the international middle class expands rapidly. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), 2012 saw more than a billion international tourist arrivals for the first time.

Dealing with people from other cultures requires not only language skills but cultural understanding, which in turn requires authentic exposure to a culture. Learning a language in immersion abroad is the most effective and enjoyable ways to achieve this. Apart from marrying someone from another culture, of course.

Diplomacy / international organisations

Saying a great deal in few words, or saying nothing in many words, is an art. If you are representing your country or an organisation, one of the most important ways you can do this is to speak to people in their own language.

Certain international organisations demand language skills. For example, a second job interview with the EU or European Commission will be conducted in an institutional language that is not your first: English, French or German. International organisations are highly aware of the importance of language for cultural understanding.


camera dictionary coffee phone money

If you have ambitions to work as a foreign correspondent, you will benefit hugely from the ability to speak with people in their own languages. Being able to read the foreign press also gives you the opportunity to get international stories first and in more depth.


Whether working as a buyer or selling to an international clientele, your language and cultural skills allow you to make that essential human connection. On a technical level, the ability to speak a foreign language is important in any industry where goods or services move across international borders.

Communication is at the heart of business, whether communicating with customers, suppliers or partners. The more languages a company can speak, the wider the possibilities.

The international aspect: cultural fluency is an enormous asset for almost any business

If you spend time learning a language in immersion abroad, you will gain more than just language skills. What many employers value as much as the technical ability to speak another language are the cultural and soft skills that come with time spent studying abroad, in an international environment. Think of this as cultural fluency to go with your language fluency.

Studying at a language school, not only will you be immersed in the local culture, but you will meet people from all ends of the Earth. The same is true if you spend time abroad as part of a degree program, for example during an Erasmus year.

Does having a language degree help?

graduate students

For certain jobs such as translation, interpretation and teaching, a degree in languages is typically essential, alongside some form of further qualification. For other industries where a language degree is not essential, spending three or four years studying a language, often with a year abroad, still gives you demonstrable communication skills and cultural experience.

Many of these skills can also be gained outside of the university system through spending time in immersion. Our long-term and gap year programs include a wide range of opportunities for volunteering and work experience that can make your CV/résumé stand out.

However long you choose to stay, you should definitely consider taking an official certificate which shows in a clear manner what level you have achieved.

Do you work with languages or are you hunting for a language-related job? Share your experiences in the comments. 

Learn languages for work

By Laura Furnari

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