Careers with a modern language degree
Among the most popular roles available to modern language graduates are those in translating (written word), interpreting (spoken word) and teaching (particularly secondary school level or above).
For translating and interpretation roles, language graduates will often need to gain a professional qualification from an accredited body (such as from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in the UK or the American Translators Association in the US).
A modern language degree will also open up opportunities in a wide range of potential employment sectors, including commerce and social services. Other routes include working in the diplomatic or civil service, maybe even in your government’s Foreign Office. Language graduates are also highly valued in research jobs or development work within international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations – though these highly competitive roles may require proficiency in at least three languages. Meanwhile graduates in languages such as Mandarin or Arabic are likely to find themselves in high demand among all kinds of international employers, due to the rapid growth of these markets.
Although many translators and interpreters work as self-employed freelancers, some choose to use their language skills within an organization; for example, within a company which needs people to communicate with international clients to help build strong relationships.
Among the pathways you could consider are:
Education is a much more varied sector than many think. Career opportunities for modern language graduates are not only within secondary and tertiary education, but also in adult and lifelong learning, cultural and heritage education, private education and special needs education. These roles require great communication and leadership skills, and often an ability to work well under pressure. Additional teaching qualifications are often a prerequisite.
Media and publishing careers
Media careers are a very popular career choice, encompassing online, print and multimedia journalism. The publishing world encompasses book publishing, newspapers and magazines, online publishing and specialized journals. All of these sectors look for graduates with a keen eye for detail, sound reading and writing ability, and often knowledge of current affairs and culture, or expertise in a particular field. Modern language graduates may be sought-after as translators, for example of popular novels being prepared for international distribution (often translators will only translate into their mother tongue, not the other way around).
Business, consulting and management careers
Also known as the professional services industry, the business, consulting and management sector is all about improving business performance. Although many workers in this sector will have attained specialized business degrees, modern language graduates are also highly valued by many professional services organizations, thanks to their ability to work with international clients and help manage global business connections.
Marketing, advertising and PR careers
The communications skills that modern language students will gain are particularly valuable for marketing, advertising and PR careers. For these roles you will be required to work closely with people, both colleagues and clients, focusing on the needs of a target audience. After a period of time in the industry you may be able to take on account management responsibilities, becoming an expert in how to market a product, service, organization or individual to the world. For roles in international companies selling products or services overseas, language degree graduates may enjoy opportunities to travel.
Public service careers
The public sector covers everything from work within central government, to roles in non-departmental public bodies (NDPB) which work for, yet are independent of, government. Departments within the public sector include education, media, environment, work and pensions, health, and transport. Language graduates’ skills can be applied across many of these, but multilingual proficiency may be especially useful in sectors such as business and trade, tourism, culture and the home office (immigration, border control, national security and police). To work in the public service as a translator or interpreter, you will likely need an additional diploma.