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In most cases, fluency in a language will not be enough by itself to secure a job offer. If you are already well-qualified and enthusiastic, however, language skills can give you a significant edge

Teaching, translating or interpreting are the main careers that use languages regularly, but they are far from the only ones. Listen to our past talks to get inspiration from several alumni who have pursued careers using their language skills. You can also explore the Careers Service blog for stories about interning at the UN and planning a year abroad.

For more information on planning on doing a year abroad, see the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty’s guide. If you are interested in learning another language, opportunities are offered by the Cambridge University Language Centre.

Translating and Interpreting

Most professional translators and interpreters are freelance, and the vast majority have specific qualifications. Many also have an agent, although it is possible to work without one if you are good at marketing yourself and willing to build up regular clients. Some permanent salaried jobs exist in organisations like the European Commission or GCHQ.

Before starting to find roles, you should consider the following:

  • How much demand is there for the languages you are fluent in?
  • Who might your target market be?
  • Translators generally only translate into their mother tongue, but interpreters are expected to interpret both ways.
  • Do you have a Plan B? Early in their career, many translators/interpreters work part time in another, possibly unrelated field to make ends meet.

On the Prospects website you can find occupational profiles for Interpreters and Translators.

Skills and practice

In translating, working accurately and at speed is crucial to attract and keep customers, and to earn a living. Professional translators are usually paid per source word - the more words you can translate per hour, the more you earn. Training (for instance translating 1500-2000 words per day) will help increase your speed and improve your technique. Pro-bono work can be a good way to get this practice. This will also build your CV and shorten the post qualification experience needed to be taken on by an agency.

Some people take time out after their degree in order to develop their language skills by living abroad. In these cases, teaching TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses is a common way of earning an income.

In addition to fluency in your chosen languages, IT skills can be useful, and good public speaking is a must for interpreters.

Postgraduate Courses

The kind of translation you may have done during your degree is a good foundation, but it does not prepare you for working as a translator. Most institutions and agencies require a postgraduate qualification from their translators.

If you are considering a course, examine its content carefully, and think about the area you wish to work in. Some courses focus more on theory and others on practical training. Most are full-time, year-long courses though there are some part time distance learning options. There is also a part time diploma accredited by The Chartered Institute of Linguists.

Some courses train you in both interpreting and translation, while others focus on one or the other. Some allow you to choose a specialism such as law, technology, or science. Imperial College London, for instance, offer a MSc in Scientific, Medical and Technical Translation. The Chartered Institute of Linguists publishes a list of such courses. Find out what links to employers the institution has and where the alumni of the course are now working. Some courses, for instance, are part of the European Masters in Translation network, recognised by the European Commission.

Translating and interpreting positions

Translation and interpretation skills, either simultaneously or consecutively, are required in many sectors and settings. These include major conferences, police investigations, international organisations, security services, government communications, and immigration.

There is a real demand for native English speakers with fluency in other languages in the European Commission. Shortage languages include but are not restricted to German, Arabic, Chinese, Romanian, Latvian, Maltese, and Russian.

If you would like to work as a translator at the United Nations or European Commission, bear in mind that neither organisation recruits on an annual basis. The EC, for instance, holds competitions for translators in each language roughly once every three years (see the EU page interpreting for Europe). The UN only officially works in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese, and recruits via an exam system similar to the EC’s competitions.

Other jobs requiring languages

Government and International Organisations

Language skills are not required for the Civil Service Fast Stream, but are useful for roles involving embassies and overseas offices (see the International Organisations and Public Sector sector pages). For Diplomatic Service roles, languages are of course an asset. If posted abroad, you would be given intensive preparatory language training (if needed).

Any role in the European Commission—not just translation and interpreting—requires a working knowledge of a second language. Information about traineeships is available from the traineeships office.

Teaching

French is the most widely taught language in the UK followed by Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and Japanese. There are also specialist language colleges at secondary level with a wide choice of languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and other non-European languages. For more information, see the Teaching sector page.

Commercial, Business, and Financial Services

Any organisation that communicates with overseas clients will value language skills. Many will have branches abroad and as business has become increasingly global, languages are more in demand. Sectors include Banking, Consultancy, Financial Services, Marketing and Communications, and Law.

Arts and Heritage Management

Use of languages in this sector tends to be irregular. Some highly specialised roles might use them more regularly, for instance in the Department of Asia at the British Museum. Other roles (such as an Orchestral International Tour Manager) might have an intense period of using it every day and then not again for a year. See the Arts and Heritage sector page.

Media

At media organisations such as Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, languages as often essential. Publishers, advertisers and television companies will often have roles requiring languages, as well as foreign travel.

For more ideas for jobs using languages

These brief examples do not form an exclusive list. Other areas that use languages to some extent include the armed forces, travel and tourism, charities, and international development organisations. Look at the other sector pages on this site or on the Prospects website to get more ideas.

Resources

Translating and interpreting

Recruitment agencies specialising in roles involving languages

Working abroad

GoinGlobal offers a wealth of information to help you plan your international career. The Careers Service has subscribed to this service, making it available to Cambridge students, staff and alumni. Information on this site includes job search sources, work permit/visa regulations, resume writing guidelines and examples, employment trends, salary ranges, networking groups, and cultural / interviewing advice.

Europass is an EU initiative to increase transparency of qualification and mobility of citizens in Europe. The five Europass documents are: CV, Language Passport, Europass Mobility, Certificate supplement and Diploma supplement - sharing a common brand name, logo and aim to make a person's skills and qualifications clearly understood throughout Europe.

Hearing from others

Catch up on past talks - we have a number of inspiring talks from panellists from a variety of sectors provide insight and helpful advice on how they use languages in their roles.

Blog posts