IWTYAL 201: What are some good careers with languages?

Kyle asks: “What are some good careers using languages?”

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Full Transcript:

Olly Richards: Good morning everybody, welcome back to the I will Teach You a Language podcast. To the latest century I guess we’d call it — Episode 201. Back to business today after the debauchery of recent episodes like live from Mexico. The interview with the Michel Thomas publisher. The long, drunken, unstructured conversation from Episode 200. We are getting right back to answering your questions here today and we’ve got a great one today all about careers and jobs that use languages. Where you can practice and use your languages.

But, before we get to that, I’d like to tell you about a very exciting opportunity that’s coming up. It’s something I’ve been working on very hard for the last few months. And it is probably the most exciting thing for me professionally that I have done in the last couple of years. Which is to create a brand-new language course for beginners. It is a Spanish course and it takes you from complete beginner in Spanish all the way up to intermediate. And so, it’s for you if you’re interested in Spanish of course — whether you are a complete beginner or also if you’ve been learning for a while but haven’t got very far and you’d like to do something that’s a bit more comprehensive.

The cool thing is that I’ve put it together to follow my ideal language learning approach. Everything that I believe in about language learning. Everything I talk about here on the podcast. I’ve rolled this into one complete course. And it follows the medium of story. So basically, to go through the course what you’ll be doing is you will be reading this exciting story in Spanish. And it’s a simple story obviously, because it’s for beginners. But what I get you to do is read the story, listen to the story and then go through these video lessons that I’ve prepared for you. And then a series of other things as well. So, you actually read and learn at the same time.

I am really, really proud of it. A lot has gone into it and I am going to be opening up for people who would like to be testers, basically. So, if you’d like to have an early version of the course — which will be heavily discounted for you to recognise the fact that it’s in beta, as it were. And in return I’d be asking for feedback on the course. You’d go through it and provide me with feedback.

If that’s something that you think you might be interested in can you drop me an email and let me know — olly@iwillteachyoualanguage.com. That’s Olly, O-L-L-Y@iwillteachyoualanguage.com. Just put Spanish Beginners Course in the subject line and let me know that you’re interested and I’ll reply and we can have a conversation about that to see if it’s the right fit and I can give you some more information over email. That is very, very cool coming very, very soon.

I would like to thank the sponsors of the show. The people who make this show possible. They’ve been supporting me for almost two years now. They are of course italki and you can get a free lesson through italki with a native speaker teacher of your choice in any language by going to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson. You know the drill by now. It’s Episode 201 after all.

Right, how can use your languages for work? How would you design a career that uses languages? Let’s here from Kyle.

Kyle: Hello Olly. My name’s Kyle and I’m a university student from South Africa. I’m currently studying both German and French. My question is what are some careers you can suggest to do with languages? Languages, language learning, language teaching, the language department at universities etcetera. I’ll probably end up teaching English abroad for a while but would love to get into something involving my other languages too. I’m also willing to do post graduate studies. Yes, thanks man. Thanks in advance.

Hey Kyle. Thanks for your question, it’s a very common one as well. Anyone, especially in your situation, a university student who is thinking about their career is going to think — if you like languages you’re going to think, “Well how can I combine the two?”.

Now, you can easily Google jobs with languages, careers with languages and get a list of things. So I’m not going to run through different jobs that use languages here. But what I think would be more beneficial is for me to talk a little bit about my experience with others who have asked the same question as you and who sought out careers internationally or careers with different languages. Because I think that will help you with the mindset that I think is most useful here. Because we’ve got the obvious jobs like being a teacher, translator, interpreter, academic. And then we’ve got the less obvious ones. And, I think, the obvious ones you know about. You know that you can be a teacher or an interpreter or a translator, right? So, I don’t think we need to talk about those.

I think the most interesting opportunities are actually with more standard or more non-language related careers because those are the ones that people don’t think about so much. Now, in my own case, I was in a very similar situation to you. I was long out of university already but I decided that I wanted to do something with my languages so I trained as an English teacher and went to teach English in Japan for a while and it was a fantastic thing to do because it got me thinking about languages. Learning about teaching. I went abroad and I met people. I learnt Japanese. All these things. So I think it’s great to teach English and I would definitely encourage you to do that.

So, I worked for the British Council and after Japan I went to Qatar and I went to Egypt. So, I’ve lived in all these different countries teaching English. And you would think that it’s the natural environment to use the other languages that I learn, right? Wrong. It really doesn’t work like that. The reality of a native English speaker living abroad is that you can get by on English perfectly well as much as you want. And at work I had almost no reason to use Japanese or Arabic. I should say no requirement or necessity to use those languages. Now in reality I did, but it all came from me. When I was working in Egypt, for example, I’d often meet customers who didn’t speak very good English and I would try to use my Arabic as much as I could, and it was cool — but it was down to my own initiative. And almost every situation I can think of with languages, it always comes down to your own initiative.

Someone messaged me the other day and said, “Olly, I heard you talking about language learning. But look, I’m a native English speaker living in the UK so I don’t think I’ll be able to”. And I just replied, “Well hang on, I’m a native English speaker living in the UK and I’m using languages every day”. So much of it depends on your attitude and I think that with all my experience, trying to engineer jobs and careers that use languages is actually really, really hard. So, I prefer to design my life in such a way that allows me to use languages because it’s much more reliable. It’s something you can control. And here in London where I live, and I guess it’s probably very similar in South Africa as well, especially if you’re in one of the larger cities. You really can design a life that’s full of languages. Then it’s down to you.

The reality is if you work for a company they would be able to change — even if you get sent abroad for a while. That time will come to an end. They’ll send you back home, they’ll send you somewhere else. You never have any control. But languages really needs to be — I’ve said this so many times — it needs to be a lifestyle. You need to design your life around languages if that’s what you want. And I think the only certain way to have a career using languages is to actually teach that language or translate that language. Even then, you’re then limited to that one language most likely in your career.

Now, I saw a video a few months back from Steve Kaufmann and I’ll link to this in the show notes. In which he answered this exact same question. And he said something very, very interesting which has also mirrored exactly in my own experience which is this. In all of his career, and he’s lived in China or Hong Kong, Japan, Germany I believe — all around the world. He speaks many languages. He said that he has never actually found or gone after or been successful at a job for which a language is a requirement. For example, to apply for this job you must speak German. What he’s always found though is that the fact that he already speaks languages has opened up lots of opportunities.

For example, in a company or an organisation in which you already work. If you already speak French or German and an opportunity comes up to go and live abroad or move abroad to work in the French or German office, you are going to be positioning yourself right at the top of the queue by already speaking those languages.

So, the best way to approach this I think is that no knowing languages opens up opportunities that you might not otherwise know about. And it seems to work much more frequently that way rather than you actively going out and searching opportunities or jobs that require that language. And I think there are two reasons for that. Firstly, if you’re looking for jobs that have to do with German, you’ve got a lot of competition. Every other German speaker is looking for that job. But secondly, most jobs that require you to be bilingual are much more likely to get the person they need by going to a native speaker of that language who also speaks fluent English. Because many people speak fluent English. So that bilingual German job we’re just talking about — it’s going to be much easier for the company to find a native German speaker who probably already speaks perfect English, right? It’s much harder for them to go and find a native English speaker who also speaks German.

The cards are stacked against you when you’re looking for careers that in which you can use your languages explicitly. But there are a few obvious ones. A career in the foreign office, for example, of your national government. Or with the national cultural institution — like the equivalent of the British Council or the Alliance française or something like that. Anything that works explicitly with other countries.

Those are obvious choices. Any multinational company that has offices abroad. Like banks, law firms, import-export companies. All of these companies will have lots of opportunities. Not only for talking and meeting clients but also for transferring and being posted abroad as well. And again, if you already speak say French and German, then that positions you right at the top of the queue for those kind of opportunities.

So, I would be looking for careers that interest me beyond languages but they also have an international component that will make languages an asset for you. The thing ultimately though, what I would say is if you are passionate about one particular language and you want to work with that language. Then I would be looking to actually move to the country itself and make a life for yourself there. Because then whatever you do, whatever you study, whatever jobs you get — you’re going to be using that language. And that’s really — that’s the ultimate, right? Because it’s much better than being reliant on a local company to give you opportunities. If you really want to make a life with German in it, then see if you can move to Berlin. Go study in a German university. Get a job with a local German company. That’s really the way to do it.

Long term though, is that really what you want? These are kind of the questions that you have to ask. Which is what brings me back to the original point. Which is that I think that language learning, being a lifestyle, the best thing you can possibly do — if you know where you want to live and where you want to spend your time, make your life — is to actually design a life that has languages in it, irrespective of your work. So, here in London I use many of my languages very frequently and I design it that way because that’s the lifestyle that I want. And then whatever happens with my work, even though — I’m a case in point, really — even though I work with languages every day, most of what I do is in English. Because that’s just the way of the world. But then when I go out and when I do other things out around town with my friends, I use my languages because I’ve created it that way.

So, I hope that helps Kyle. Maybe not the answer you were expecting but I hope that gives you a perspective beyond the normal thing that you hear. If you’ve got — I’ll tell you what we can do. If you’ve got any particular thought or ideas about the kind of career that you want, or the kind of life that you want to design for yourself, the place that you want to live — if you go ahead and let us know in the comments then maybe what we can do is we can come in and chime in. Maybe I can give you a few ideas there. Maybe other people can give you some ideas. Often it just takes one idea from the right person to really set off a train of thinking that can lead you to all kinds of exciting opportunities.

But the main thing, I think, for now. Keep your languages up. Go and teach English for a while, that sounds like a great thing to do. And be on the lookout for careers that would interest you irrespective of the languages but that you think would give you those kind of opportunities to make use of your languages and that would give you an advantage.

If you would like to ask me a question please go to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask and there’s a little widget there where you can click the button and record the question just like Kyle did. Also, if you’ve been enjoying the podcast, I would really appreciate a review. I know you hear this and most of the time you just think, “Okay, cool. I’ll do it later” and you don’t. If you do have a few minutes spare now, I would really appreciate you opening up iTunes on your phone or on your computer, searching for the I Will Teach You A Language podcast and leaving a quick star-rating and review. It would really, really help other people to find the podcasts and help keep me motivated as well.

If you’d like to see the show notes from this episode and maybe leave a comment or a suggestion for Kyle, please go to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode201. Thank you so much and see you next time.

Olly Richards: Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode, I really hope you enjoyed it. You know, one of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory. Because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don’t forget them later in conversation when you really need them. So, what I decided to do was to put together a short email course. It’s a three-part email course over three days that teaches you my favourite techniques for memorising vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary into your long-term memory. It’s a short course, three days, it’s completely free and if you’d like to sign up for it please go to www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememorycourse.

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