Are you a keen linguist and xenophile pursuing a languages degree?
Are your parents constantly nagging you with “…but what can you do with a languages degree?”
Have you been wrongly led to believe there are limited career options?
Look no further.
This article will prove that there is a huge range of jobs you can do with a languages degree and that a degree in foreign languages opens up your career options in terms of both the type of job you can do and its location.
A graduate with a languages degree is a versatile, extremely employable candidate with a broad skill set fit for a myriad of roles.
First, let’s take a look at what a language degree entails and debunk some myths...
A degree in languages does not simply mean showing up for a couple of classes each week whilst you attempt to explain to the language assistant what colour hair you have over a croissant and a hot chocolate...
Although this sounds rather straightforward and appealing, a languages degree is a lot more rigorous than just basic vocabulary practice or trying new gastronomies.
What’s more, it is rare for students to only study one language - the norm for a Modern Languages degree in the UK is the teaching of two foreign languages, with the option to complete a short ab-initio course in a third language during the final year.
A languages degree is usually three or four years long, with one year spent abroad in the target countries either working or studying. In this way, the student is immersed in both language and culture and can improve their knowledge and fluency. There will typically be a “Year Abroad Project” or some form of extended research to carry out during this time in the foreign country in order to prepare the student for writing their final dissertation.
You can consult the world’s top 10 universities for language degrees here.
A languages degree is usually organised around two distinct disciplines:
The first discipline involves scrupulous grammar practice through the translation of various media – audiovisual sources as well as literary texts – from a wide variety of centuries and locations where the source language is commonly spoken.
The student must learn to balance precise translations with ensuring that the final product still reads as naturally as an original work would in the new language. The time period, register, dialect, and perhaps even lyricism or poetic features of the text/speech must be acknowledged and reflected conspicuously in the target language.
Of course, students are also training their proficiency in order to communicate their own thoughts and experiences in a foreign language, so not all the time is dedicated to translating the works of others.
Students are taught to produce objective summaries or critical analyses (presented either in oral presentations or essays) in response to material relating to current affairs in the target country. In this way, students simultaneously practice the language and deepen their knowledge of the relevant sociopolitical issues.
The second discipline focuses on understanding the historical, political, and economical situations of areas in which the target language is spoken via the examination of their cultural output. In other words, in order to comprehend the current mentalities of the inhabitants speaking the language in question, the student will learn to tease out the meanings embedded in the region’s literature, cinema, art, or philosophy.
Not only are the topics themselves both polemic and eye-opening – queer identities or postcolonial influences, for example – but the style or branch of theory through which they are presented provides further layers of meaning to unravel.
As you can see, a languages degree is far more multifaceted than people realise… and along with such a variety of assignments and undertakings comes the development of a wide range of skills. The key qualities that stand out in a languages degree graduate are analytical and communicative capacities. Get comfortable, because there are a lot of skills to get through…
You can read more about the ratio of hard to soft skills multilingual individuals possess here.
The skills listed above are described in the context of a working environment, but it is important to realise that a languages degree really does grow your brain and gives you an advantage in any situation, even outside the office.
In an ever-increasingly globalised world, being a candidate with languages is only becoming more attractive.
Nowadays, it is not uncommon for a company in France to be doing business with another enterprise in the Czech Republic one week, and with a partner in Slovakia the next - for example.
A graduate with a languages degree is therefore an ideal candidate for an employer as they essentially serve as a worker and interpreter at the same time. What’s more, it is touching when effort is made to speak another’s mother tongue (rather than both parties communicating via English) and closer, more durable relationships can be formed.
You can check out the top European languages for global business here.
Speaking of the international language of English, it is especially important that English natives pursue a languages degree. It is arrogant and self-limiting to believe that you will get by in life because everyone else can learn your language. Polyglots are an asset to companies and are very likely to be hired over a narrow-minded monolingual!
In fact, the number of British students taking foreign languages has halved since 2000, and currently, in the United States, only 1 in 5 students study languages before college. Although these figures are depressingly low, the upside is that, as a graduate with a languages degree, you are a highly sought-after commodity in those areas and have an advantage when it comes to job applications.
This is particularly relevant for the United Kingdom who, having just left Europe and sparking political tensions, must now forge even stronger international bonds to ensure trade continues.
Even if you do not intend to live and work in a foreign country for the rest of your life, having knowledge of the office etiquette or work-life abroad is highly valuable. When doing business with nationals from the country in question you are less likely to commit an embarrassing or offensive faux pas!
Here it is... The section we have all been waiting for.
Without any further ado, let's start with the most obvious career options you can do with a languages degree.
With a languages degree, you are clearly the perfect match for these career options. Your day-to-day life will involve the exercises you regularly carried about during university; the only difference is that, in the real world, mistakes are more costly!
Here are some examples of embarrassing translation mistakes that will make you wince...
Again, this career option is simply a continuation of what you were doing during your languages degree - the research being undertaken within a more specific area of focus.
Transitioning from a languages degree graduate to a teacher is extremely satisfying as you have finally mastered those finicky grammar rules and reached the "other side". It is no longer you who is racking their brains and stuttering over difficult vocabulary whilst a stern native speaker judges your every phrase; now you have the authority to correct others!
Aside from these 4 main roles that spring to mind when considering what you can do with a languages degree, there are various career options that are also a great fit for the valuable skills you have developed.
With your solid communications skills, the world of marketing is your oyster!
These are similar jobs with subtle distinctions - you can find out more about the key differences between copywriters and content writers here. The main factor to bear in mind is that both career options are rooted in the act of storytelling, a concept with which someone who has studied 4 years of literary analysis should be very familiar!
A languages graduate makes an ideal Copywriter due to their heightened senses regarding semantic nuance. With your confident, extensive command of vocabulary, you are well aware of the power of words and how changing one adjective in a slogan (for instance) could have the effect of appealing to a new target market, increasing sales tenfold.
Having read a plethora of novels and genres, there is no doubt that you have refined your own unique and engaging style of writing, perfect for Content Writing. Yet, as elaborated in the skills section above, a languages degree not only trains your brain to be creative, but also methodical, analytical, and adept at pattern recognition.
These are crucial qualities to have within the context of Search Engine Optimisation, where content writers must strive to repeat certain keywords in order to rank well on Google, without turning their texts into repetitive drivel. A good content marketer is able to balance article optimization with interesting, enlightening content.
Controlling a company's Social Media presence relies on knowledge of what type of communication is suitable for different social platforms. For example, the caption a brand wishes to post on Instagram is unlikely to be written in the appropriate tone or register for a post on LinkedIn.
Having been exposed to an abundance of literary genres in a diverse array of forms (prose, poetry, calligrams, etc.) you are more than qualified for selecting the correct form of communication for a specific setting and audience.
The trick lies within remaining coherent and consistent: although companies must adapt their communications for each network, it is important to remain recognisable and stay true to their values.
Knowing your company's personality is essential for communicating - whether internally or externally - in a credible, authentic manner, meaning that language graduates are also ideal candidates for the roles of:
What's more, an individual with a languages degree is especially useful within the sphere of Brand Semiotics. If you are well versed in detecting allegories and extracting deeper meanings from novels, you will surely be capable of designing and injecting the desired overtones or connotations in a brand's logo and imagery.
Brands need employees capable of creating entire universes of signs and significance around a product or service. In this way, they become interactive, memorable, and human - a far more effective strategy than simply flogging a product in the consumer's face.
A languages degree reinforces your grasp of your native language's grammar; you cannot assimilate a foreign grammar system if you first do not understand how tenses function in your mother tongue.
Moreover, after reading countless quality literary works, you will have developed a fiendish eye for identifying spelling or syntactical mistakes.
Editing is the perfect role for you if you are desperate to unleash your inner grammar nazi.
It is also a great excuse to indulge in your passions: if you are a bookworm, edit fiction; if you are a fashion fan, edit magazines like Vogue; if you are a biology geek, edit scientific journals...
If you are addicted to staying up to date with current affairs, however, why not consider journalism as a career option? Students with language degrees already tick the box in terms of their enthusiasm for foreign news and events.
Equally importantly, they know how to convince a reader: their persuasive writing skills polished from years of essays, arguing a new point regarding certain cultural matters each week.
On the other hand, if you want more creative freedom, you could write your own novels. You never know, perhaps in the future your work will end up on the syllabus to be analysed by other language degree students outside your home country!
Communication and persuasion are a language graduate's strengths, so promoting products to potential clients will be a piece of cake!
Whilst dealing with the (often labyrinthine) foreign administration processes during the year abroad, you will have certainly developed confidence and resilience, two crucial characteristics in a successful Sales Representative.
You can choose whether you prefer to work as the Lead Generator who researches and warms up new leads, or as the Sales Representative who later steps in to seal the deal.
If you chose to study a languages degree, you are probably the type of person who loves to travel and organises their own trips down to the very last detail in order to make the most of their time abroad, exploring foreign places.
So if you are naturally eager to organise exciting experiences, why not use this drive to allow others to enjoy fulfilling holidays?
Whilst liaising with hotels, airlines, entertainment companies, and the clients themselves, you are bound to get the chance to use your language skills.
What's more, all this research into the forms of amusement and/or relaxation available across the globe will surely serve you as inspiration when it comes to booking your own holidays! Arabic baths, anyone?
If creating jam-packed itineraries for clients gives you too much FOMO, become a tour guide so that you have an excuse to flâner around your favourite sights as often as you like!
Once again, you will be using your precious language skills to which you dedicated so much time and effort, whilst being able to rattle on about subjects that impassion you.
Being a Tour Guide is a rewarding, social job through which you will make many new contacts.
As already established, students who have taken a languages degree graduate with strong organisational and administrative skills. So, as an International Aid Worker, you are well prepared to carry out tasks such as conducting needs assessments, organising fundraising events, or managing volunteers and budgets.
Already familiar with a range of cultures, religions, or ways of life, you are particularly sensitive to national or ethnic differences that must be respected when intervening in situations of poverty or injustice.
Your willingness to communicate with those in need and to use languages to bridge boundaries will be invaluable.
Cultural awareness and racial respect are also fundamental qualities within the sphere of diplomacy. In this case, instead of dealing directly with the underprivileged as an Aid Worker would, daily tasks will be based around international politics and negotiations (so your skills of persuasion will come in handy, once again.)
The ability to eloquently express yourself on behalf of your country is vital, and you will have the chance to show off your high level of vocabulary on complex topics such as terrorism, climate change, or international conflict.
Your analytical skills can be put to good use in picking out relevant information from the CVs and cover letters of prospective applicants, identifying who really has the passion and qualifications necessary for the position available.
A Human Resources Manager is also in charge of maintaining healthy employee relations within the company and therefore need to be comfortable with dealing with people. After tackling a year abroad full of liaising with flat owners, host families, bank workers, employers, university professors, and many more - all in a language that is not your own - you will have quickly learnt to be a "people person" whether you wanted to or not.
Performance Management is a key part of working in Human Resources, so again communicative skills are highly regarded; it is necessary to be a thoughtful communicator, aware of how to use words to bring the best out of people, or how to provide constructive criticism when they are not performing as well as they could.
A graduate with a languages degree has a keen eye for detail and sharp problem-solving skills that lend themselves well to detective work.
Your time at university spent pooling secondary reading and selecting relevant quotes to support your arguments can be considered useful preparation for an investigator's assessment of various sources of data and information before drawing perceptive conclusions.
Just as in class you methodically pieced together a translation of a difficult unseen Russian text (for example) an investigator must think cryptically, reordering clues to come up with a sound explanation of curious events.
Last but by no means least, the coolest career option you can do with a languages degree is to become a spy! No, this is not a joke - institutions like MI5 are recruiting foreign language analysts to translate audio material and provide confidential insights into other countries' political landscapes.
Imagine progressing from eavesdropping the conversations of local speakers to satisfy your personal curiosity on holiday... to listening to intercepted phone calls in order to protect the nation!
There are no two ways about it: there is a diverse range of career options you can do with a languages degree, with opportunities to suit all tastes and profiles.
It may well be a cliché that your secondary school language teachers used to repeat to you, but the fact remains that languages open your mind and broaden your horizons. Not only does a languages degree stimulate cognitive development, but it equips you with skills to deal with almost every social occasion.
Training you to be logical, yet creative, analytical yet intuitive, you will graduate from your languages degree an ambitious, versatile, and cultured individual.
Now get out there and apply to some of the career options listed above!
You can start searching right here at Europe Language Jobs.
Good luck, polyglots!
Anything to add? Comment below your ideas or experiences with where languages led you!