One of the most common questions I’m asked as a translator is: “how do I start learning a language?” I completely understand why people often do not know where to begin — as there are tons of language learning resources out there that promote their products and learning systems as the quickest and/or most accurate way to becoming fluent in a language.
Don’t tell me you’ve never seen them… “Become fluent in Spanish in just one month!” “Have your first fluent conversation in just 48 hours!” These money traps exist everywhere, and they should certainly be avoided.
My advice? Arm yourself with immersive resources. Setting your mind to learning a language is something that takes commitment and dedication. It is not enough to set aside thirty minutes a day if you want true fluency.
The language learnings resources I mention below are non-specific. Why? There are a number of reasons, including the fact that different resources exist for different languages, and that we all have different learning styles. Below are simply my suggestions for various resources that will help you learn a language by immersing yourself in it, whether learning for international work, travel, sports or other hobbies.
If your first instinct is to run to Amazon and find “[Language] for Dummies,” that’s okay. Textbooks and other written resources for language learning are excellent entry points for learning a language. Understand that these books are often not comprehensive — the reason that many language textbooks are specifically for classroom use is that the classroom time contributes to language fluency.
The main focus for in-home use should be gaining comfort with a language. These resources will help you acclimate yourself to the rules of a language and give you a guide to language learning flow, i.e. where to start, grammar structure, basic lessons.
Apps are a great idea if you want to learn languages quickly. That’s not to say an app can speed up the fluency process, but language learning apps like Duolingo can help you to familiarize yourself with common phrases rapidly. This helps to establish base words within your memory bank.
If you want to learn a language with a different character system (like Korean, for instance), memorizing the new alphabet involved can be an arduous task, but lessened by the use of apps. Apps can go wherever you go, making memorization much easier and also entertaining. Have a long wait in the doctor’s office? Pull out your app and get learning!
Apps for language learning try to be the digital version of old-school, paper flashcards, but they cannot replace them. Flashcards should definitely have a place in your language learning resource arsenal. Unlike apps that involve tapping and swiping, flashcards offer a more tactile form of learning that also includes a visual aide.
Flashcards are great for casual learning. Keep a stack next to your bed and study them a few times before you fall asleep. Also, it’s a common mistake to only use flashcards for vocabulary words. But flashcards are also great for memorizing grammar, sentence structure rules and other more conceptual ideas about a language.
Last, but certainly not least, media is one of the most important resources you can utilize when it comes to language immersion and language learning. Sites like Netflix have a wide array of television and movie options from different countries. Find a selection that contains the language you want to learn and start watching!
Pronunciation, repeated words, phrase structures — this is important when it comes to adapting your brain to a language. When you immerse yourself in a language’s media, you’re more likely to achieve and retain fluency.
So you know a lot of languages and want to monetize your skill…that’s great! Now it’s time to figure out language profitability. That is, what languages will net you the most when it comes to translation jobs?
Figuring out what language will net you the highest paying translation jobs is difficult. Why? There are a lot of variables involved in determining language profitability.
One variable is location. If you live in Saudi Arabia, the most profitable translation jobs are probably not the same ones as in the USA. Location matters, both in terms of which languages and in which sectors are most highly prized. Therefore, it’s hard to pinpoint which languages are the most profitable across the board.
For the sake of this article, let’s say you live in a certain unnamed US city. What languages will make you the most money when it comes to translation work?
Japan currently has a lot of trade deals with regards to technology and products coming in and out of the USA. In fact, the United States and Japan partner on many, many things. Therefore, companies from both countries are always looking for translators that can help them with all types of communications.
The good news is that while there is a high demand for Japanese translators, the competition is relatively low due to the complexity of the language. Therefore, Japan has a high language profitability in the USA.
There’s a little more competition when it comes to Chinese translation jobs, mostly due to the fact that it’s the most widely spoken language in the world. Many Chinese citizens often snag these jobs because they learn another language as their second language. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other translators in this market.
Also like Japan, China has a lot of reason to need English-to-Chinese translations and vice versa. There’s a lot of demand, quite a bit of competition and a lot of money involved.
German is considered to be a rare language in the United States. Despite there being a substantial German population within many states, it’s not a commonly spoken language. If you walk into a building and ask if anyone speaks German, there’s likely to be a low positive response. Especially compared to other languages like French or Spanish.
This is a circumstance in which there’s a large population with little outside fluency. Meaning, many companies are willing to pay top-dollar for German translators that can help sell products and services to an untapped market.
Swedish (and Other Nordic Languages)
Swedish, as well as other languages that exist in the Nordic region, is also gaining popularity among translators. Why? Because jobs dealing with Nordic languages pay well. The Nordic countries are quickly bringing in more and more Western influences to their major cities, which means they have to acclimate to Western languages.
The good thing about learning a language like Swedish is trans-language fluency. If you know Swedish, you’re more than halfway there to learning Norwegian and Danish. Learning any one of these languages and studying the other two lightly can net you three potential translation pools.
Finally, countries in the Middle East are also looking to communicate more and more with countries that speak English. Larger companies are already on top of this, especially if they’re in the oil industry. Now, the little guys are looking to cash in on business deals with companies in the United States, too. Arabic isn’t a language commonly learned in the United States unless you’re specifically looking for work in the Middle East.
Remember that the above example is for the USA, and language profitability depends on your location. Therefore, if you live in England, the languages that will net you the most may be different. Be sure to ask your fellow translators working in similar locations or in similar sectors for advice. What languages have netted them the highest paying translation jobs?
Do you like going out with friends on the weekend? Enjoying a beverage together? Going out to dinner with friends and romantic prospects when you want to? Maybe you even like day trips out with friends? If so, you and I aren’t going to see eye to eye on this.
See, I used to be like you. I used to enjoy going out with my buddies, watching movies in the theater and buying groceries in a store. Social lives cost money, though, so I thought I might make some extra pocket money by utilizing my language skills. I put myself out there as a freelance translator hoping I could easily translate a few brochures or instruction manuals for hapless housewives who accidentally bought a Chinese product and can’t figure out how to use it.
It wasn’t long before I realized how wrong my presumptions were, even though they feel so right now.
I began to realize that my time was being taken up by managing my projects and translating as expertly as I could. It used to be that I would vaguely offer a client the gist of a 30-page e-book, but I realized that wasn’t going to give me the cash I was looking for. Then it hit me – the problem wasn’t that I was overloading myself with projects I wasn’t equipped for. The problem was that I was wasting my time on socializing!
The answer? Completely cut out social interaction.
The less I went outside, the more work I got done. The quality of my translations were directly correlated to whether or not I put on pants in the morning. What’s the point when you aren’t going anywhere all day?
More time meant more clients, and now I have tons and they keep coming back for more. I’ve managed to exclude all possible social life that would get in the way of the quantity or quality of my work.
What do I do for food? That’s what the Internet’s for. I can order takeout and groceries via my phone. Some weeks the only person I have to talk to is my pizza delivery guy, and he doesn’t mind that my life has devolved into nonstop translating and greasy hair.
There is one problem – I do have to talk to clients, though I don’t have to meet any of them in person. Still, I’m not exactly excited when I have to shoot them an email or call them on the phone. If only we could cut off all social contact forever, am I right?
Translating and project management have improved my life greatly. I may not be able to remember what my friends look like or the last time I actually looked a person in the eye, but what does that matter when my life is constantly fulfilled by translating thought leadership blogs for American businessmen?
Here’s what I want you to take away from my story: my life’s pretty sweet. I get to ignore everyone and spend my life translating and doing project management all day long. It’s alright if you’re jealous. It’s pretty understandable when I have it this good.
P.S: We feel compelled to confirm that this article is tongue in cheek 🙂
Is learning languages a hobby for you? Are you a polyglot, someone who speaks multiple languages fluently? Have you thought about what are the best jobs for polyglots?
Learning languages as a hobby and being a polyglot has many perks, like being able to understand sports commentary delivered in other languages or the ability to read texts written in obscure languages like Cyrillic. That’s fine and good…but what if this hobby could be monetized?
A lot of people out there know more than one language, but they don’t actually use this special skill in a way that makes them money. Being a polyglot is attractive within many different job fields, including these four jobs that are absolutely perfect for polyglots.
This is perhaps the most obvious career you can have when you’re a fan of languages. Translation is simply taking words in one language and translating them into another, like translating a brochure written in English into Chinese.
The problem many polyglots encounter when it comes to translating is that they don’t expect the career to require so many other varied tasks. A translator needs to be a “people person”, understand project management responsibilities and language fluidity. It’s not enough to translate words directly — you have to write them in a way that flows well.
Language Training or Teaching
You’ll find that foreign language teachers are always in demand, and the more “rare” the language, the more likely you’ll be to find a job. This job choice may require special certification or specific degrees depending on the state or country involved. Some countries require Bachelor’s Degrees in order to teach a foreign language while teaching languages out of the country can require other specifications.
Teaching also doesn’t have to occur within a classroom. From community centers to online courses, you can find teaching and training positions outside of education establishments.
Finally, online streaming services and media manufacturers are constantly looking for skilled linguists to translate their content into different languages for scripting and subtitling. Netflix and Hulu are two big employers of polyglots. They need multilingual translators to help grow their language base by adding multi-language subtitles to their video content.
If you want to avoid writing, there are other types of jobs for polyglots, too! For example, interpretation may be the better job position for you. Interpreting is like translation in the spoken sense. Imagine there are two people who want to talk but who share no common language. As an interpreter, you can bridge this communication gap by translating for each person. This is also a very basic interpretation of the career; some interpreters help translate for large audiences and within other scenarios.
Interpreters must also be in tune with people. They must be ready to translate tense situations, especially depending on where they’re interpreting. Airlines, pharmacies, police stations, schools. Interpreters exist everywhere, and the context of the conversations change depending on the setting.
Jobs for Polyglots
These are four examples of great jobs that polyglots can apply to and likely land with no problem. However, that doesn’t mean they’re the ONLY four jobs out there. Many different vocations look at someone who has language skills as preferable when compared to someone who only knows one language.
In short, when you put “polyglot” on your resume, you’re likely to get a lot of job offers — but which one will you choose?
People think knowing more than one language is cool…and they’re not wrong! They assume that utilizing this skill in the workplace is easy — after all, the hard part is learning the language, not using it.
The problem is that people don’t think about language in the context of work. Being a translator or translation project manager is just as stressful as any other job, if not more so.
Translating documents and content isn’t just about talking to people in short bursts in their native tongue. It’s being able to accurately translate their content into other languages, constantly honing your language skills, leading a team of translators with different ideas and skill levels, handling multiple deadlines and connecting with clients in valuable ways across different languages.
Suffice to say, my life as a project manager and translator was once frustrating more often than not. This is also just one aspect of my life — imagine all of your own typical everyday life problems and commitments. Family, relationships, finances, personal growth. Now toss in a stressful translation project management job on top of it all.
Being honest, I was often lost as to how to climb over my mountain of stress.
You may have stumbled onto this article without being truly interested in translation, I still have some advice for you: you have to find a way to alleviate work stress in your life. If you are a translator and/or translation project manager, this need to de-stress is even greater.
As an individual, you have the ability to come up with your own method of alleviating stress. I want to tell you all about mine.
My Own Stress Story
Life as a project manager and translator was getting to be too much for me to handle. I had consistently overlapping projects and deadlines that required multiple people working on each project. I would have to wrangle multiple teams at once while simultaneously working with clients, and sometimes clients weren’t the nicest or most reasonable.
I could see members of my team were stressed, but I was essentially powerless to do much to help them. After all, I was drowning in stress myself.
It got to the point where I finally admitted something to myself: something has to give. Either I find a way to let off steam and keep my stress low, or this job is going to eat me alive.
My solution was reiki. For those who are unfamiliar, Reiki is a Japanese meditation technique that focuses on stress reduction, inner healing and relaxation. It’s taught through healing touch and allows a person to unlock an endless supply of life’s energy. Reiki meditation features many different levels that can heal your physical body and clear your conscious mind.
Now I practice Reiki at least an hour a day. This simultaneously gives me scheduled time away from work, while also allowing me to ease my tension and let go of stress. When I’m more relaxed, I perform better at my job. I’m capable of leading my team and helping them with their own stress. I can be more communicative with vendors. I feel more empowered to negotiate with clients so that we can see eye to eye.
Because of my work, I’m now essentially a Reiki meditation expert. This is my way of dealing with stress — what will yours be?