What Can You Do With a Foreign Language Major?
With a degree in foreign language, you bring more to the table than simply having fluency in a language. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, bilingual people often have a better memory, are more culturally aware, are more creative, and have enhanced problem solving skills.
Despite the benefits of learning another language, you might be wondering, “What can you do with a foreign language major?” There are many career paths open to language majors – some that allow you to stay in America and others that give the opportunity to move around the world. A degree in foreign language will push you to learn the language quickly and effectively even if you don’t have prior language experience.
Grace College French major Alan Fikejs has asked the question, “What can you do with a foreign language major?” a number of times and has explored a variety of career paths available to him. He shares with us five of the jobs you can pursue with a foreign language degree.
Interpreters translate spoken language to help businesses and individuals communicate with people who speak another language. As the bridge between two people or groups, interpreters are responsible for communicating seamlessly in both languages in a way that is quick and precise. An interpretation job could take you anywhere, whether it be in the states or to the other side of the world.
“Depending on where you work as an interpreter, you will have the opportunity to meet many interesting people and quite possibly travel to exciting places,” Fikejs says. “Pursuing a language degree shows any employer that you have placed a high level of commitment to the chosen language.”
Diplomats deal with international relations in areas like peace deals, trade, human rights, and the environment. Sometimes, diplomats have an interpreter with them, but knowing the language can help cut out the middleman and allow diplomats to connect on a more personal level. For diplomats, it’s often helpful to have an additional major such as political science or international business to learn the inner workings of the government.
“When your job is all about improving relations between two countries, knowing the language of the people you work with is not only important, it also shows you actually care about meeting your fellow diplomat where they are at,” Fikejs says.
3. Tour Guide
Tour guides have the opportunity to use their degree in foreign language to show others the hidden wonders of their city and to educate on its history. Their language skills are helpful when conversing with an English speaking group in another country or with visitors to an English speaking country. They need to know interesting facts about their area and be prepared to answer questions. Popular destinations such as cities, museums, and historical sites have a greater need for tour guides.
“In my opinion, this can be one of the most fun jobs,” Fikejs says. “When I studied abroad in France, I had a few tour guide moments where I was able to walk friends through a museum I had been to and tell them about the place. This experience showed me that tour guiding is more than just showing people around a cool museum or a historical town. It acts as a way to connect people to the past.”
A missionary reaches people with the Gospel and shares the word of God. Although missionaries could get by with knowing basic vocabulary, it’s best to speak a language fluently to truly reach people in their heart language. A degree in foreign language also teaches students about the other culture, which will help those interested in missions to respectfully meet the locals in a culturally humble way.
“A missionary’s job is to introduce people to Christ, and a big step towards that is speaking the language of the people you are trying to reach,” Fikejs says. “In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about meeting people where they are at in their life. It is not a missionary’s job to change someone’s culture or language, it’s about sharing the truth of the Gospel.”
According to the US Census Bureau, about 20% of the US population speaks another language. Therefore, there is an increasing need for teachers to help future generations learn English to complete their education in the U.S. And beyond these roles, there is a need for college professors who can teach foreign languages for those who are seeking to pursue the four previous mentioned careers. Language teachers are also in demand in countries all around the world for teaching English as a second language.
“Perhaps the most overlooked answer to the question, ‘What can you do with a foreign language major?’ is teach. Someone has to be the one to instruct all the jobs on this list – and many more not listed,” Fikejs says. “It is possible to self teach, but having someone who is an expert in the language to guide you in the proper way to speak and in the correct usage of the grammar will help you get more out of it in the end.”
What can you do with a foreign language major? These careers just scratch the surface. For more information about the opportunities a degree in foreign language can provide you, check out our modern language program and read about where studying abroad as a language major can take you.