Careers in Modern languages: A Comprehensive Guide

If not a time machine, what else can help you travel back in time to know the history, culture and sociopolitical backdrop of a region? If you have guessed learning new languages and their literature, that’s spot-on!

Here's what we'll cover today

  • The basics
  • What does a degree in modern languages offer
  • Top ten universities to study modern languages
  • Career roles in the sector

What is a modern languages degree?

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”- Ludwig Wittgenstein.

It is time to break the popular myth that the whole world speaks English, and knowing English alone will help us communicate with anyone in the world. Research conducted by the CIA suggests only 4.83 percentof people use English as their first native language, and 4.85 percent of the world’s population speak and consider Spanish their native language. This puts the particular course ‘Modern Languages’ under the limelight.

An undergraduate degree in modern languages is not just about learning a language. Itprovides a foundational education in one or more languages and helps navigate the linguistic and cultural barriers in the global economy. Expertise in this particular course allows the student to attain a high level of proficiency (written and spoken) in the languages along with a significant amount of focuson the literature from medieval to the present, cultural studies courses, film studies and also the history and political context of a particular region.A few of the critical languages that are covered under the modern languages course is as follows:

  • Arabic
  • Catalan
  • Czech (with Slovak)
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • Modern Greek
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish

What does the course offer?

As the prime focus of this program is on cultural studies and literature associated with a specific region, the student will be able to learn more about the cultural transition and the juxtaposition of the past and present. This course not only makes the student fluent in one or more languages but also equips the student with a broad worldview and the ability to accept and understand different cultures. Areas like theology,psychology,politics,theatre,aesthetics, ethics n, philosophy and anthropology are also touched upon in the course to make the student a critical thinker and writer.

The global year

Many modern language programs are for four years, with one year of studying or working in a parented institution in a global ed destination, and this is one of the most important and exciting parts of doing a course in modern languages. Most universities offer a year of global ed in the final year, and this is when the student can fully indulge in knowing the cultures, languages and sociopolitical occurrences of a country. The global year will also let the student meet the real-life challenges of speaking the particular language with a broader audience and help the student gain a deeper intellectual understanding of the language.

Top 10 universities to study modern languages

Here are the top 10 universities globally to study modern languages as listed in the
in the QS World Ranking.

Serial No. University Country
1 Harvard University United States
2 University of Oxford United Kingdom
3 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
4 University of California Berkeley United States
5 Stanford University United States
6 Yale University United States
7 Princeton University United States
8 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) United States
9 The University of Tokyo Japan
10 Peking University China

PhD in modern languages

The PhD program at the University of Mississippi was started four years ago with only fivefull-time scholars. Currently, the program enjoys an exponential growth of eleven times the original number. This program is divided into two tracks, one in applied linguistics, multilingualism and teachers training. The second track is in Spanish. Thistrack focuses on meeting the demands for professionals and academics who can understand the Spanish language and culture of the particular community and applying that knowledge to real-world communication around the world.

What do modern languages graduates do?

As we are now in an increasingly multicultural and interconnected world, knowing different languages will prepare us for a wide variety of job opportunities. If you are looking forward to taking up a modern language degree, you can be happy that there will be immense employability opportunities for you. Language skills have become highly in demand  in many different sectors which operates internationally, and that has resulted in the creation of multiple job openings,  few of the typical modern language degree jobs are as follows :

  • Business, logistics and finance careers
  • Broadcast journalist
  • Copywriter
  • Content Marketeer
  • Diplomat
  • Interpreter
  • International development worker
  • International Aid Worker
  • Language Analyst for Security Services
  • Marketing, advertising and public relations (PR) careers
  • Translator

Interpreter-One of the prevalent and readily available job opportunities for a language expert who is a master of two or more languages is to become an interpreter. The job of an Interpreter is to convert spoken speech and sign language from one language to another. The most important factor required to become an interpreter is to have excellent command over two different languages. This is also a field where even freelancing opportunities arein high demand. There are immense opportunities in the public service also for an interpreter.

Translator– the job of a translator is to convert written material from one language to another. A successful translation occurs when the meaning and message of the text is as accurate as of the original text. Even this job requires an excellent command and linguistics knowledge of two different languages.

Diplomacy and international development works are areas where modern language degree holders are usually employed. In this field, it is not just the command over the language that matters but also the knowledge about the history, socio-political happenings and cross-cultural expertise.  This is one reason why the final year of the Modern language program happens in global destinations. This career is ideal for people interested in foreign affairs and can combine it with language skills.

Marketing, advertising and public relations careers-in the global market, companies look up to modern graduate degree holders to marketing and advertising works. A graduate will need to work closely with colleagues and clits in this particular sector to bridge the gap between them.

According to the Graduate destinations data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, marketing associate professional is the top job handled by the modern language graduates in the UK. Few other positions included in the list are teaching, business-related, human resource and industrial relations officer.

Destination Percentage
Employed 62.1
Further study 15.8
Working and studying 8
Unemployed 5.9
Other 8.2

Graduate destinations for modern languages

Type of work Percentage
Business, HR and finance 20.1
Marketing, PR and sales 18
Secretarial and numerical clerks 13.4
Education 11.3
Other 37

Types of work entered in the UK

Language analyst for security service –  Becoming a spy must be a fascinating career that anyone with a language degree can think of. There are institutions like  MI5, which recruits foreign language analysts to translate and interpret content from one language to the other to deal with confidential insights of the country. This is much more than eavesdropping on your friend’s conversation out of curiosity,  as here you will be doing this to protect your nation!

Just as importantly, the threat of the aliens as colonizers is slowly becoming a realitylike in the movie Arrival, andthe world is of coursegoing to be needing a language geek to communicate with the aliens, so this can also be added to our list of career opportunities!

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Global Ed


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