There’s a common misconception that studying a degree in a foreign language won’t get you very far in your career, unless that foreign language is English. These cynics will say that your language degree will render you either a teacher or a translator, and that’s about it.
Well, first of all, both are pretty great jobs. And secondly, it’s not even remotely true. Learning a second language (or third, or fourth, or... you get the point) opens up a world of possibilities for you, not just career wise, but also in terms of life experience. Multi-linguists have also been proven to think differently to mono-linguists, and can develop a higher IQ on average! All great reasons to widen your vocabulary and become fluent in more than one language.
As well as this, there’s the whole issue of the UK leaving the European Union. “Brexit” is actually set to boost the prospects of foreign language speakers, as lots of UK businesses, from startups to huge corporations, move their operational bases out of the UK and overseas.
But now, let’s get down to brass tax... What careers can multi-linguists get? Can language degree holders make a good salary in the UK? And if so, which languages pay the best?
Let’s get teaching out of the way, since it’s the most obvious. You could of course use your language degree to become a teacher, or even a lecturer, and you’d make a decent salary too. Annual income for teachers starts at around £24,000 in the UK, but rises to an average of around £35,000 with a few years experience. That’s not to mention that you get about 12 weeks of paid holidays per year.
Then there’s the other rather obvious one -- translation services. The money varies with this one, but on average, translation in the UK costs between £0.10 and £0.16 per word. Now let’s do some quick maths: a 1,000 word translation could be at least £100, and would usually take about 2-3 hours to complete. That puts you somewhere in the region of £33 and £50 per hour, in a country where the average hourly wage is approximately £15 per hour. Long story short -- there’s money in translation.
Then there’s the (usually) booming travel and tourism industry, the world of journalism and foreign correspondence, as well as diplomacy, marketing and advertising, and even international development. All job prospects in these fields are better if you can speak a language which applies.
But in the highly lucrative worlds of business and finance, there are a host of job opportunities in the UK for those who speak a foreign language fluently. The business and finance worlds are always looking for multiple language speakers. Why? Well, trade relations with other countries are such a huge money spinner. It makes absolute sense that being able to do business in a variety of languages can help operations run much more smoothly. And of course, the more languages you speak, as well as the more in-demand the language is, the more valuable you are to your company... and the more valuable you are to your company, the more money you can make! Simple really.
A quick scan of recruitment sites in the UK shows that German is the most in-demand foreign language in the UK. But it’s also the highest paid language, with German speaking employees earning an average of around £35,000 per year. Given the rather tidy salary, it comes as no surprise that the most popular careers for German speakers in the UK are in the business, tech and finance worlds.
Jobs requiring Arabic in the UK are not in exceptional demand, but they are well paid. Approximately £34,000 is the average annual salary for Arabic speaking jobs, many of which involve trade, import and export, often of oil and other natural resources. Outside of these fields, there’s the opportunity to work in customer support, market research, publishing as well as translation.
France, much like Germany, is one of the UK’s closest trading and business partners. This means that French speaking employees in the business world are both highly sought after and well paid. On average, £32,000 is taken home per year by those who work with French. Outside of the business world, French is also the most popular second language at UK schools, so you could always get a good job in the world of education.
Once again, it’s the close working relationship between the UK and the Netherlands that makes this language a very useful one to have in the business world. Dutch speaking employees in the UK make an average of around £30,000 per year, but fair warning: While Dutch pays well, it’s not in such high demand. This is most likely because of the fact that about 90% of the population of the Netherlands can speak English fluently. That’s a seriously impressive stat!
Another language that pays an average of around £30,000 per year in the UK. Spain is becoming increasingly attractive for UK companies, most notably for the strong economy and much, much better weather! Tourism from the UK to Spain has long been a booming industry, so there’s always the possibility of working in that sector too. But the Spanish language has a much broader coverage than just Spain. It’s the second most widely spoken language in the world (after Mandarin Chinese), and is spoken natively in 9 out of 13 south American countries. This, of course, boosts your job prospects and value, as the number of countries you could deal with increases.
At the moment, Russian speaking jobs in the UK average at about £29,000 per year, but this is expected to rise, as is the demand for Russian speakers in the future. Business and financial relations between the two countries are set to become much tighter in the post-Brexit UK, and so the prospects for Russian speakers are expected to improve accordingly.
...And an honourable mention for....
This is one to watch for the future. As of today, Mandarin speaking jobs in the UK pay around £28,000, and they’re not overly in demand. But watch this space... China has grown into an economic powerhouse. It has one of the world’s strongest economies, now has more millionaires than the USA, and is the world’s leading country in both manufacturing and exports. In short, China is a very powerful country, and the world is keen to make friends with her to reap those economic benefits.
Though while Mandarin is the world’s most spoken language, here’s the rub: the overwhelming majority of Mandarin speakers are, well, Mandarin Chinese people. Non-Chinese people who can speak Mandarin fluently, rare as they are, are set to be of tremendous value in the next decade or two. It’s a hard language to learn, no doubt, but it could soon be worth an absolute fortune.