Language skills are highly valued in a world where business is increasing conducted over language barriers. English is often regarded as the international language of business so as a graduate with a combination of English and another one or two languages, you are best placed to take advantage of this. Combinations with major European languages, Mandarin or Japanese are highly valued but there will be an application for any combination language skills. Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages are also becoming increasingly valued.
Careers in interpretation and translation will allow for the most direct use of language skills, but languages will improve your prospects in a whole range of careers. Often your language skills will not form the central part of your career but will be a valuable side asset. As well as interpretation and translation, common career directions for graduates with language skills are teaching, civil service and particularly the diplomatic service, as well as business applications such as transport and logistics, media, leisure and tourism and banking.
All language graduates get to use their academic skills directly in a working environment. As well as this, graduates will get to build on what they learned to further their knowledge. This can be very gratifying and therefore lead to high levels of job satisfaction.
A language skill will increase your chances of fast career advancement in almost all sectors. For multiple language skills this force will be even greater. This is particularly true when you are in an organisation that often uses language skills but does not have a large base of speakers. It is likely that you will be given opportunities ahead of your peers when necessary. This will increase your experience and therefore make you a better candidate for promotion or even encourage a lateral move to a client’s institution that is impressed with your language skills. More generally having a second or third language is a good indicator of intelligence and the best indicator of a candidate who has a high capacity to learn. Therefore you may, as a language graduate, be looked upon favourably even if you are not applying those language skills.
Graduates working in a role where they actively use their language skills but where the skills are not central to the role should expect to command a greater salary than their peers. The amount of difference is dependent on the career but in most cases should be significant. This benefit is coupled with the gratification received by getting to use your academic skills in the workplace.
It is the nature of a career based on language skills that you will be expected to travel or live away from home. This is a dimension of your future career that you should consider as a graduate with language skills. A language graduate should of course be better placed to deal with this possibility as it is likely that they will be placed in a location where they can speak the language. A good way to increase your employability and also test yourself is to spend a period of time living in a country where you can use your skills. This will also give you a better platform to decide if you could live away from home in the long term. Most language degrees will have a year aboard option built in. This is a great opportunity but will not distinguish you from the crowd. An example on an extended solo stay abroad, particularly a working stay, will provide the best evidence of capability to an employer. It shows that you can get on with your language skills away from comfort of the university environment. There are also many opportunities for language graduates to work in the UK only, particularly in translation and interpretation as well as teaching.
Below is a list of roles that could be taken up by a graduate with language skills;
Translation and interpretation – These roles are distinct but most practitioners will conduct both particularly when working with a long term client. The main difference between the roles is that a translator converts written material where as an interpreter converts spoken statements. These skills will be applied in both formal and social contexts.
Teaching – Teaching can be a very rewarding experience. Language skills will enable you to teach English to foreign students or your learnt language to English speaking students. Teaching English as a foreign language is a worldwide operation. At entry level pay may well be low as English speakers teach as a means of getting around the world. However your skills should allow you to progress further as you will have an increased capacity to communicate. Teaching your learnt language in the UK can provide more stable employment, although to teach at higher levels and therefore enter the higher pay brackets will require an exceptional command of your chosen language. For more information about teaching in the UK please see our Education and Teaching profile.
Civil service - The Foreign and Commonwealth Office runs a placement scheme for graduates every year for entry to the Diplomatic Service. A language degree would add value to your application although it is not a necessity. For a job role such as this, language skills are not central for an application and other appropriate skills will need to be displayed. This is where a combined degree e.g. Politics with Spanish would be sort after. For more information about working in the civil service please see our Government and Public Sector profile.
Business services – Strong language skills will often be regarded as an asset but not a necessity in general, but there will be roles advertised where a fluency in a particularly language is required. For business applications, graduates with dual nationality are desired as deals are often negotiated in the buyer’s language and a need for dialect becomes important.
Leisure and tourism – Opportunities in this sector to apply foreign language skills will mostly be abroad, often in highly desirable tourist locations. Due to this pay may often be limited at entry level but due to high labor turnover in this sector, advancement should be swift for capable graduates. As well as an attractive long term career a role in leisure and tourism can be a great device for improving your language skills in the short term. For more information about working in this sector please see our Travel, Leisure and Tourism profile.
Transport – The global nature of transport and logistics industries leads to the crossing of many languages barriers. Therefore good language skills will aid an application in this role. Graduates keen on transport and distribution are often highly numerate so a graduate with a combined language degree with a Bsc would be suitable. For more information please see our Transport and Logistics profile.
Qualifications and skills needed
Most roles that will a require a graduate to use language skills will not have a language degree as a prerequisite, but any evidence of language skills would be good and an academic qualification better. Graduate language students should try not to appear one-dimensional as a verity of skills will be needed to back up an application. Strong examples of work experience in a field relevant to what you are applying for as well as evidence of study or work abroad would complete a well rounded application.
If you would like to teach English as foreign language or teach your learnt languages you will need to gain separate teacher qualifications in most circumstances. The best approach for a graduate would be to take a one year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or, in Scotland, the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). This will provide a platform for a future career in education. If you only wish to teach English as a foreign language then a PGCE is not essential. If you wish to teach English formally in another country you should consider taking foreign qualifications that may be necessary in some cases.