BITS and Pieces

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Career opportunities with languages

Do you know a foreign language and love it like your own? Is your language class your favourite place to be? Are you at your happiest best when the words of a foreign language finally begin to flow out of your mouth in a smooth, fluent manner? Do you relate to people who call themselves Grammar Nazis? If you have answered in the affirmative for even a couple of these questions, then you are a quintessential linguaphile!

Linguaphiles take immense pride in being multilingual and blissfully spend hours at a stretch crunching words and doing whatever it takes to master a language.

But learning and knowing a foreign language is more than just a rewarding hobby. Foreign languages when coupled with the right training and direction make for a potentially promising career.

Read on as Editor-in-chief, Sonali Kulkarni takes us on an exciting journey through the world of opportunities in foreign languages.

Why do we learn foreign languages? Go ahead, introspect. Yes, they help us land that coveted job by adding an extra dimension to our CV, they make us global citizens and they open up new horizons in this age of rapidly shrinking borders.

But is that it? Are foreign languages nothing but eternal add-ons? No! Foreign languages not only complement a variety of professions but also offer exciting opportunities within the language industry. And the language professionals, as they are referred to, occupy a niche of their own in this globalized world.

Is it for me?

Languages are for everyone. Well, while some are congenitally endowed with Shakespeare-like linguistic abilities, others may have to tire themselves a little to get there. This flair for languages that some individuals possess can also be a result of factors such as multilingual parents or cosmopolitan neighbourhoods. But in the end, languages are indeed for everyone.

Getting started

I cannot, in all honesty, stress enough how important it is to start early. If you think languages are your calling, be the early bird and sign up for a language course. It is, however, important to choose the language you would like to learn wisely. French, German, Japanese and Mandarin could be the smartest options if you consider both their global importance and the availability and affordability of language institutes. Their more exotic counterparts, the likes of Swahili or Persian can wait till you have one foreign language up your sleeve. Moreover, knowing languages such as French, German or Japanese will not only help you get started in the language industry, but also help you learn the other languages from those families more easily.

If you already know a foreign language, look around and seize every opportunity that comes your way. Doesn’t matter how young or old you are. What matters is that you take your first toddlers’ steps towards becoming a language professional. Go on. Make a move.

Setting the stage

Before we get to the career specific training, it is essential that we have a grip on the language(s) of our choice. Depending on certain variables like your language institute, the intensity of your courses, your flair for languages, etc. learning a foreign language would take anywhere between 3 and 5 years of consistent efforts. And do not forget to be persistent and practice. But with foreign languages in the spotlight, let us not forget to brush up on our mother tongue and any regional languages we might know.

Tell me more

Fish out the instruction manual of your car or the help file of your software. It is most likely to be a mile-long sheet with instructions written in at least a few languages. Translations at their best! Legal and financial documents, certificates for visa applications, sales leaflets and brochures, etc. are some of the documents that a translation company would normally receive for translating. Translating novels and books, on the other hand, is also something you could dabble in and falls under the branch of literary translations.

Needless to say, a translator needs to have translation skills and domain knowledge along with an excellent command over the source and target languages. The changing nature of the translation industry also makes it imperative for a translator to be at ease with CAT (Computer-Aided Translation) Tools and Machine Translation Engines. And while working with a Translation Company pays well, freelancing can feed your entrepreneurial bug.

Closely related to translations is the exciting field of localization and internationalization (L10N and I18N respectively). Localization is the process of adapting a product or a service to a particular language and culture with the desired local “look and feel”. Localization is widely implemented in Internet portals, websites, etc. For any desktop, web or mobile application to be localized, it first needs to be internationalized, i.e. changes need to be made to the code so that the application accepts localized content. Software, website, eLearning and video game localisation, like we said, the possibilities are both exciting and endless.

Going hand in hand is transcription, which refers to the art of listening to speech and converting it into a written document. The transcriptionist needs to be able to understand different accents and the local terminology.

If speaking is more ‘your thing’, then interpreting could be a great option. An interpreter acts as a mediator to interpret the exact content from one language to another. Interpreters are sought-after professionals for international conferences, world summits, etc. An interpreter needs to be spontaneous and fluent in the source and target languages. Simultaneous and consecutive are two primary types of interpreting.

All these are blossoming career paths and acquiring the required domain knowledge and career-specific training would only take you to your dream job.

Anything different?

Many people opt to teach at language institutes or schools and colleges. Coaching classes for foreign languages are also booming. With the increase in the number of aspiring language learners, a resultant increase in the demand for teachers is evident.

And if the quirks of a language fascinate you just as much as the word play and the punography does, if you fancy those little unanswered questions from your language class about whimsical grammatical rules, morphology and syntaxes, you must consider getting your masters in Linguistics after completing the basic formal education in a foreign language (or even English, for that matter). As scholarly as a Masters in Linguistics sounds, it opens equally thrilling gateways to the world of research and pedagogy.

And as mentioned previously, foreign languages can be coupled with almost anything, right from engineering to hospitality, medicine, fashion, management, tourism, publishing, etc. Some examples of applied careers could be tour guides and airhostesses. Why, you could even start your own French café if you have some background in the food business industry.

Ok, but how fat is the pay check?

Contrary to popular lore, languages, under the right circumstances, can and do pay quite well. That, of course, depends on your skill set, promptness, willingness to work and professionalism. An established language professional can earn just as much as any other professional.

Start small, make it big!

The opportunities, direct or applied, in the language industry are endless. Explore, experiment, choose and seek. No matter how small the start is, make it big!

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Sonali Kulkarni - Editor-in-Chief, French-English Translator A novice at adulthood and an ardent disciple of Dan Brown and Ayn Rand, Sonali is a pathological bookworm, a borderline nerdy introvert and a hardcore adventure junkie who cannot live without chocolate. She is currently studying French and manages to speak a little bit of Spanish too. Having represented her state at national level in Athletics for the better part of a decade, the nomad in her has now given it up to venture into the exciting world of languages, writing and travel.