In most European countries, when you decide that a foreign language is what you would like to specialise in and start studying at university together with a second foreign language of your choice, you have little idea what the future has in store for you. Once you have graduated from university, you may start teaching one of those languages that you know at primary or secondary level, become a translator/interpreter or simply get a secretarial job at a multi-national company. Many young graduates nowadays do freelance work because it is less stressful than squeezing your brains out how to make your lessons interesting to schoolchildren or spending up to nine hours a day in an office building.
When you are young, energetic and ready to share your knowledge and passion for foreign languages, the world is your oyster. There is time for you to test the labour market and find what really suits your personality and expertise. Here is some advice for those who have finished their foreign language training and don’t yet know which way to go:
1. Choose carefully
One thing you might need to do before you start making a living is to decide what kind of job you would like to have, according to your training, language level and personality.
If you like children, you might enjoy teaching a foreign language in a school. If you are energetic, well-organised and willing to work overtime, you would make a great secretary. If you are quick-witted and a proficient foreign language speaker, you can join the interpreters’ ‘club’; or – admitting you like spending time indoors, in front of the computer screen – you can engross in translation work.
No matter your calling, it’s always a good idea to find a job quickly and see how it goes. You may not like your first choice but only by practising can you improve your language knowledge and gain life experience at the same time. If you are not afraid to experiment, you will, sooner or later, find the right path.
I for one got a full-time job at a prestigious high school in my area and spent a few years teaching before I realised I could also do translations for the City Hall and occasionally work as an interpreter, accompanying groups of foreign delegations on an official visit to our city.
2.Have a little fun
Some people do not feel comfortable doing more than one kind of job while a language professional is versatile by definition. He/she can do more than you think.
If you like challenges and variation, being just a translator who works from a desk and spends most of the day staring at the screen and putting someone’s words and ideas into another language may not be the right choice for you. You could turn to creative writing in the language(s) that you master, starting a blog of your own or, if you feel the need to work outside your ‘comfort zone’, you might as well initiate a book group with other speakers of foreign languages in your town or a drama club and put on plays in one of the languages that you know.
I have done the latter with my students but you don’t need to be a teacher to do that. There are many people who would join you in order to improve their language skills and have some fun acting.
3. Never stop learning
One last thing for you to consider: no matter how much you studied at university, there is still a lot to learn from the surrounding world.
Keeping up with the news on foreign websites and TV channels, reading contemporary literature in the original, listening to dialects as often as you can, keeping in touch with native speakers of the language that interests you, watching films and documentaries without peeking at subtitles will all help you to improve your language skills and act as an ongoing aid in your personal and professional development.
My passion for languages started when I was 7 years old and has never diminished. My whole career revolved around languages: first as a teacher, later as a a translator and interpreter. I also love writing, sushi and make-up.