what can a multilingual person do in life to pay the bills and pass their life meaningfully
May 14, 2012 10:52 AM   Subscribe

How to use my foreign language skills to help myself (job, etc.) and to help others?

So while walking on the Camino (thank you again askme for the suggestion!) it really hit home that we all have special gifts and that we have to learn to use them to their fullest.

My "special gift" also became apparent- I speak a bunch of foreign languages well enough to communicate extensively with others- Spanish, French, Hindi/Urdu (advanced); Arabic, Turkish (intermediate). I read/write Spanish and French well, but not the others. However, I wouldn't want to or feel comfortable with my expertise level to be a teacher or a translator.

What kind of work should I get involved in? I have an international development finance background so far and I'm at a turning point in my life in that I'm applying to grad schools, currently on a break and may have to look for a job again soon, I'm not even locked down into a country right now. I'm 28.

Also looking for other ways to get involved in this world with this sort of 'gift'- volunteer. Maybe with refugees? I want to know what niches I need to consider being in because multilingual people really excel in them.

My long-term aim is to find a career where I am needed, where I put in reasonable hours and have flexibility (maybe running my own business at some point), and have some utility to society. I particularly have trouble finding my work impactful yet meaningful to me, hoping by focusing on my talents that this'll help with at least some of this feeling.

If you read my other questions you'll see that I'm really trying to figure out my next steps. I will be grateful for your input.
posted by saraindc to Work & Money (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
International recruiting, training, etc. are all good fields when you have language skills.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:59 AM on May 14, 2012

Best answer: If you had to choose one, would you want to make money and live well or would you want to help people and work hard. Maximizing one will likely minimize the other.

You (languages, international development finance background, young, healthy, energetic) might be able to bypass a lot of the rungs on some organizational ladder by being a personal assistant who speaks all the languages and knows all the concepts better than all the bosses. One year you're an assistant willing and able to go anywhere, the next year you're running a foreign office everyone else was afraid to try, the next year you're running one of the big offices, the next year you're the VP in charge of something you made up your own damn self, and so on. If it's a good organization, you'll feel good about working hard for it.

If I were you, I might look into microcredit. See if you can make yourself a comfortable living and help a bunch of others by becoming a macroperson in microcredit who also knows how to arrange big profitable corporate deals to pay the bills. You get a factory in India built and you make sure everyone in that town also has access to loans.
posted by pracowity at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might investigate Community Interpreting (US). Certified interpreters are called to work in court cases, to help police interview people, to assist non-English speakers in health care settings, etc. You might sign and abide by a Code of Ethics, however, which means having the ability to be completely impartial. I had a friend who used to be an ASL interpreter for the court system but the Code of Ethics stressed her out too much - you know how lawyers semi-badger witnesses and ask confusing questions? The Deaf person often had even more trouble understanding but she wasn't allowed to amplify or explain, simply interpret.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:41 AM on May 14, 2012

Best answer: You can work in Refugee Resettlement. Currently the US and Canada resettle refugees from Bhutan (many of whom speak Hindi), many Arabic speaking countries in the middle east and Africa, and some Iranian/Afghan refugees that come from Turkey and speak Turkish.

Refugee resettlement programs are always looking for refugees and you can even work for them as a freelance interpreter (it's good money). Look for one in your area!

If you are looking to make a living and don't like non profit work, you can also look at phone interpretation. You can do it from home, you choose your hours and it's pretty well paid!
posted by Tarumba at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2012

* Refugee resettlement programs are looking for volunteers, not refugees.
posted by Tarumba at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2012

Best answer: I've heard that a lot of call centers are HQ in Salt Lake City due to the high numbers of folks who speak second or third languages as a result of Mormon Missions. So, if you're thinking of grad school, you can work at eBay speaking one of your languages to customers and go to University of Utah (personally, not my deal, but why not?)

Another thing you could do is to volunteer to teach English as a Second Language to new immigrants.

If your Spanish is really good, South Florida is a great place to start a career in finance as it is the junction for many companies doing business in the Caribbean and Latin America. I worked in Miami for years with companies who didn't even sell their products in the US, but were HQ'd in Miami for geographic and logistical reasons.

A weird idea would be to become a Flight Attendant. With lots of languages you'd be in demand. You may not make much money, but you would get to travel a ton! You don't have to make a career of it but if you need a job for a couple of years, this one might work for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on May 14, 2012

If you're interested in doing a bit more training/research in your languages, most hospitals need medical translators. You'd be helping people out and be part of many different situations (helping a family in a tough moment of decision, communicating what's happening to a woman giving birth, translating for trauma patients in the emergency room).
posted by guiniveretoo at 3:25 PM on May 14, 2012

M&E, still in international development, specifically the needs assessment phases which involve a lot of interviewing. Your langauge skills would be a huge asset here in putting people at ease instead of working through a translator.
posted by wingless_angel at 3:35 PM on May 14, 2012

I have a similar skill, and a piece of advice I would give that I haven't quite been able to operationalize for myself yet is to choose one language to really focus on (at least to start). Speaking one language at working fluency is more professionally useful than speaking seven languages at a low conversational level. Being a low-level polyglot is a great social skill, but expertise is what will take you far. This is why being a truly bilingual Hispano/Anglophone is a highly-coveted job skill, whereas you rarely see ads looking for people who can speak a smattering each of French, Chinese, Russian, Hausa, and Malay*.

I would take one of your languages-- I'm not even going to say the most "useful"; I think it should be the one that most captivates you-- and really hone it. That's not to say let the others wither in your own free time-- just make this one a professional priority.

Good luck! I really do wish there were more jobs that sought people with general linguistic breadth...as I'd probably be better-employed myself.

*That said, I have seen jobs explicitly seeking tri+linguals, though almost always Spanish and Portuguese paired, with French as a very occasional fourth.
posted by threeants at 5:46 PM on May 14, 2012

Best answer: You might want to simply do a search on Monster using the languages you speak as the keywords. I only speak French and German but even during the peak of the dot-com recession, I was able to find jobs simply by doing that.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:34 PM on May 14, 2012

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