When the pandemic turned the economy into an ash heap, my career as a musician got put on hold. I quickly had to pivot and explore other avenues to earn income. Now that I don’t have an outlet for my musical skill, I’ve had to take stock of all my other skills, passions, and training and find new ways to configure and use them. One unexpected source of sustenance for me has been to highlight the language skills I gained in opera.
For many people with a bachelor’s degree, the study of language was a college requirement. Maybe you grew up in a bilingual household. Maybe you have a minor in German, or spent a semester in Chile. If language is something for which you have a reasonable proficiency, now is the time to explore the benefits of leaning into part-time (or maybe even full-time) work as a language specialist.
There are well-documented emotional, intellectual, and relational gifts that come with speaking a new language — horizons open up and new cultures come closer — but if you love language, I’m pretty sure you know these things already. It’s less common to consider the benefits of a second language in developing (or pivoting) your career, but at a time like this, those skills could be valuable.
If you minored in Spanish or speak Tagalog with your parents, but have never used it in a professional setting, there are many opportunities to work as a translator for an hourly wage. Many of these jobs are remote and contract-based, meaning you can pick them up when you have the time or need the cash. Translations range from creating subtitles to translating low-security business documents. You will likely need to take a test to prove your fluency, or do a translation as part of the job application.
Maybe you majored in French but went into an unrelated career, or are fluent in Korean because of summers spent visiting family abroad. If your level of fluency is near native status, there are opportunities for full-time employment translating sensitive or idiomatic documents. Consulting companies, medical offices, and government contractors like the National Virtual Translation Center (managed by the FBI) or JTG frequently seek out linguists who can translate with a high level of nuance. If you feel a calling to be present directly to those working on the frontlines, as opposed to behind a screen, there are frequent needs for medical translators in hospital systems.
The benefit of leaning into work with languages is that resources are abundant to increase your proficiency. Whether it’s Duolingo, Babbel or Rosetta Stone, self-directed language programs are free or available with low monthly subscriptions. If you want to become credentialed, there are online certification courses, including a test from the American Translators Association.
I put a premium on how my work benefits my community. Like most of our generation, I want my work to carry meaning. I gained my language skills through years of studying the languages of opera, and I set out to find new ways to use those skills for gainful employment because it’s a way to use my gifts while also filling a need in the modern economy. It’s hard to see what the future will hold right now, but I appreciate how using language skills is helping to keep me afloat, and connected to other people.