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This is an update from our online Career Guide and provides a brief overview about Linguist and Translator careers.
Intelligence, Defense and the global media industry has ever greater need for linguists.
Once upon a time a linguist was needed because a group of foreign language speakers at some point on the planet had something of interest that we needed to understand. This was usually a very short-term need, and being a linguist was not something that paid the bills dependably. That has all changed since the 1990s. Between social media and inexpensive telecommunications connectivity, the potential exists for even the rarest of languages to be used 24/7 potentially anywhere on the planet.
There remain trends. Certain languages will be in greater demand than at other times, or seemingly not at all. However, a smart linguist will build a portfolio of certified skills that are always employable.
Being able to speak and to understand a foreign language is not enough to earn a living within the linguistic career field. Having gone to school, whether at college or at a specialized language school, is usually also not enough to entitle you to calling yourself a linguist.
To be employable as a linguist requires certification that you have a certain level of expertise in the language.
Career success as a linguist, and a larger paycheck, is even more dependent upon you knowing something specific about the world. You should always strive to be: “I am a junior/mid-level/senior ____ professional, and I have language expertise in ___.”
Many organizations have globalized operations that seek out professionals, and these professionals also need to have a foreign language capability.
Almost all certifications evaluate your foreign language capability as four different skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing (expression). Depending upon the position’s requirements, your market value as a linguist may depend upon your capability in as little as just one or two of these skills.
ACTFL – American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
The ACTFL is popular for the certification and recertification of non-governmental language instructors.
DLPT – Defense Language Proficiency Test
The DLPT is a mandatory recurring examination of foreign language skills among military linguists and many linguists that work on federal contracts. DLPT standards are defined by the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR).
NAJIT – National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators
NAJIT is not a certifying authority per se. Due to the extreme importance of accurate translation in a legal environment NAJIT members must be certified, and can be certified through a variety of means. This is a website full of good information if the legal system is of interest to you as a linguist.
ALTA – ALTA Language Services is becoming more popular as a certification source for government agencies, healthcare organizations, and business. ALTA administers language assessments in more than 90 languages.
Curious as to how well you might do on some of these tests? Transparent Language offers online free testing in a variety of languages. Their goal is to sell you language training software so as to increase your proficiency — but there is nothing to buy to take their tests.
The ILR does not administer certification tests although it has made some recommendations as to testing sources which meets its guidelines for foreign language proficiency (AKA ‘scales’). The ILR Skill Level Descriptions and the ILR Scale are used to develop and score U.S. Government (USG) tests of language skills. USG language tests are used for USG employees only and are not available to private individuals, commercial services, or other non-government organizations. Applicants to USG positions may be tested if they are sponsored by a governmental agency. You can find a description of the ILR foreign language skill level descriptions on the ILR homepage, towards the bottom of the page.