How to change your life and career by learning a foreign language
To learn about how foreign language can complement and expand your current career (If you’re so lucky to be working in a field that you don’t want to quit), please jump to the next section. In this section, I will focus on those of us who are seeking a total change of career, like I was.
First of all, the fact that you’re reading this right now alludes to a certain skill you may be possessed of which could afford you a high degree of global mobility even now; you speak English. If you are ever curious as to what sorts of opportunities are afforded to you based on English fluency, check out a job posting website for English teaching positions in Japan, Korea, or China. These jobs are quite numerous and easy to get. Usually a university degree (in any field) is the only major requirement. Most of these jobs do not actually require foreign language ability. However, it goes without saying that proficiency in the lingua franca of the country you’re going to, will greatly expand your job opportunities, as well as allowing you to command a higher salary at those jobs.
The trouble with teaching jobs is that, even in the best conditions, salary growth tends to be limited. The gold-standard in attainable foreign teaching jobs may be the Japanese government’s JET program, which pays a decent salary and offers a lot of benefits such as reduced rent, which can allow you to pocket most of your earnings during the duration of the program. However, the contract terms limit how long you can do this job – it is not a long term career. Outside of highly competitive jobs such as faculty positions at elite foreign universities; you probably won’t become rich as an English teacher.
But you might feel like it because of the previously mentioned difference in the cost of living in America, versus many foreign countries. I will try to keep this article’s focus on the bottom-line career benefits of foreign language study, but it must be mentioned that even a salary of, say 43,000 USD per year, can be fairly substantial even in a wealthy country like Japan – but only if you don’t live in the Tokyo area. If you take a country like Thailand for example, that salary makes you rich.
This is the go-to job that many of my classmates thought of when asked about their career aspirations. This job is not for everyone, as it can feel monotonous to reiterate the words of another person, over and over, for your career. However, for those with high degrees of language proficiency, there are significant opportunities available. A lower-advanced level of Japanese proficiency, for example, may be enough to work on written translations of “normal” stuff like emails, or help facilitate some English-Japanese conversations. But your earning potential with this sort of translation work will also be on the lower side.
For those with a very high degree of foreign language proficiency, there are government jobs which offer handsome salaries to translators which can articulately communicate in a foreign language, and readily understand and disseminate written, video, or audio media in that language, into professional English. But be forewarned, getting a job such as this, based solely on your foreign language ability, necessitates a near-native level of ability. Study hard!
Correspondence / Journalism
This is kind of like what I’m doing right now. I’m at an intermediate level of Japanese, so I can communicate and have conversations in Japanese, which allows me to have a finger on the pulse of the nation I’m living in. My native level of English allows me to easily communicate that information to an English-speaking audience. Coupled with my experience in writing, that was basically how I found a job as a writer for Non-profit Organization Samurai Meetups.
Like with translators, higher levels of skill can also command higher salaries. Every major news organization has articulate bilingual employees stationed in Japan, in order to report on relevant events and quickly gather information – such as interviews and eyewitness accounts – and translate that information for an English-speaking audience.
The English-speaking _________
Lastly, I want to mention the multitude of jobs I couldn’t enumerate, which would love to hire someone who speaks English just because they can communicate with English-speaking customers. In Japan, these jobs are numerous in the retail, food, and hospitality industries. If you can speak Japanese as well English, you can quickly become an indispensable employee, if you are in a business which has or expects to have a decent number of foreign customers. However, many of the jobs I just mentioned are not considered high-skill, so working as the token English-speaking person at a restaurant or hotel may not be what you’re looking for in terms of a career change. However, there ARE other, more lucrative opportunities available for skilled professionals who are interested in expanding their career via foreign language proficiency.
My next article will focus on how to grow your current career via foreign language ability, and will feature excerpts from an interview with my friend Ben, who has made Japan his forever-home while doing the things he loves for a living.