Great Jobs Where You Can Use French

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Introduction: Jobs That Use French

People who know French well often say they love this expressive language and would like to find a job, any job, where they can make use of their knowledge, but they aren't sure where to start. When I was in high school, I was in a similar position: I was studying French and Spanish, and I knew that I wanted some kind of work that involved language. But I didn't know what my options were. With that in mind, I've thought about options and have compiled a list of some of the best jobs where widely spoken languages like French can be used, as well as links to further information and resources. This list is a taste of the opportunities in the marketplace, enough to give you an idea of the kinds of jobs where your language skills might help you start your own research. 

Great Jobs Where You Can Use French

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French Teacher

Most people who love language become teachers in order to share this love with others. There are different kinds of teaching, and the professional requirements vary greatly from one job to the next.

If you want to become a French teacher, the first thing you need to do is decide which age group you would like to teach:

  • Early childhood
  • Kindergarten to 6th grade
  • 7th to 12th grade
  • College and university
  • Adult and continuing education

The most basic requirement for teachers is a teaching credential. The credentialing process is different for each age group listed above and also varies between states, provinces, and countries. In addition to a credential, most teachers must have at least a BA degree. For more information about the specific requirements for each age group, please see the links below.

The requirements for teaching languages to adults tend to be the easiest to fulfill. You usually don't need a degree, and for some adult education centers you don't even need a credential. I spent more than a year teaching French and Spanish at a California adult education center that did not require a credential, but it paid higher wages to teachers who had credentials and higher still to those who had credentials plus a college degree (in any subject). For example, my California adult education credential cost something like $200 (including the basic skills test and application fees). It was valid for two years, and combined with my BA plus 30 hours of graduate studies, the credential increased my pay from $18 an hour to about $24 an hour. Again, please keep in mind that your wage will vary according to where you work.

Another option is to become an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher; this is work you could do either in your home country or in a French-speaking country, where you would have the pleasure of speaking French every day.


Additional Resources

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French Translator and/or Interpreter

Translation and interpretation, while related, are two very different skills. Please see introduction to translation and interpretation and the translation links below for additional resources.

Both translation and interpretation lend themselves particularly well to telecommuting freelance work, and both are involved with the transfer of meaning from one language to another, but there is a difference in how they do this.

A translator is a person who translates written language in a very detailed manner. A conscientious translator, in an effort to be as exact as possible, may obsess about the choice of certain words and phrases. Typical translating work can include translating books, articles, poetry, instructions, software manuals, and other documents. Although the Internet has opened up worldwide communication and makes it easier than ever for translators to work at home, you might find more clients if you live in the country of your second language. For example, if you're a native English speaker as well as a fluent French speaker, you might find more work if you live in a French-speaking country.

An interpreter is a person who orally translates one language that someone is speaking into another language. It is done as the speaker is speaking or just afterward; this means it is so rapid that the result may be more paraphrase than word for word. Thus, the term "interpreter." Interpreters work mainly in international organizations, such as the United Nations and NATO, and in the government. But they are also found in the travel and tourism sector. Interpreting may be simultaneous (the interpreter listens to the speaker through headphones and interprets into a microphone) or consecutive (the interpreter takes notes and delivers an interpretation after the speaker has finished). To survive as an interpreter, you must be willing and able to travel at a moment's notice and put up with often cramped conditions (think small interpretation booth with more than one interpreter inside).

Translation and interpretation are highly competitive fields. If you want to be a translator and/or interpreter, you need more than just fluency in two or more languages. Here are some things that can give you an edge, listed from essential to highly recommended:

*Translators and interpreters are often specialized in a field like medicine, finance, or law, which means they are also fluent in the jargon of that field. They understand they'll serve their clients more effectively this way, and they'll be more in demand as interpreters.

A related job is localization, which entails the translation, aka "globalization," of websites, software, and other computer-related programs.

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Multilingual Editor and/or Proofreader

The publishing industry has a lot of opportunity for anyone with an excellent grasp of two or more languages, particularly their grammar and spelling. Just as articles, books, and papers must be edited and proofed before they are published, their translations should be, too. Potential employers include magazines, publishing houses, translation services, and more.

In addition, if you have superior French language skills and you are a top-notch editor to boot, you might even nab a job in a French maison d'édition (publishing house) editing or proofreading originals. I've never worked for a magazine or book publisher, but my French language skills did come in handy when I worked as a proofreader for a pharmaceuticals company. The labels and package inserts for each product were written in English and were then sent off to be translated into four languages, including French. My job was to proofread everything for spelling mistakes, typos, and grammatical errors, as well as to spot-check the translations for accuracy.

Another option is to edit and proofread foreign-language websites. At a time when websites are proliferating, this could be the basis for starting your own consulting business that specializes in such work.  Start by learning more about writing and editing careers.

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Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality Employee

If you speak more than one language and you love to travel, working in the travel industry might be just the ticket for you.

Flight attendants who speak several languages can be a definite asset to an airline, particularly when it comes to helping passengers on international flights.

Foreign language skills are without a doubt a plus for pilots who have to communicate with ground control, flight attendants, and possibly even passengers, especially on international flights. 

Tour guides who lead foreign groups through museums, monuments, and other well-known sites, are usually required to speak their language with them. This could comprise custom tours for a small group or package tours for larger groups on scenic bus and boat rides, hiking trips, city tours and more.

French language skills are also useful in the closely related hospitality field, which includes restaurants, hotels, camps, and ski resorts both at home and overseas. For example, the clients of an elite French restaurant would really appreciate it if their manager could help them understand the difference between fillet mignon and fillet de citron (a dash of lemon).

Additional Resources

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Foreign Service Officer

The foreign service (or equivalent) is the branch of a federal government that offers diplomatic services to other countries. This means that foreign service employees staff embassies and consulates around the world, and they often speak the local language.

The requirements for a foreign service officer vary from country to country, so it is important to start your research by seeking out information from your own country's government websites. You would not be able to apply to the foreign service of a country where you'd like to live, unless you were a citizen of that country.

For the United States, foreign service applicants have a one in 400 chance of passing both the written and oral exams; even if they do pass, they are put on a waiting list. Placement can take a year or more, so this job is definitely not for someone who is in a hurry to start working.

Additional Resources

 

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International Organization Professional

International organizations are another great source of jobs where language skills are helpful. This is especially true for French speakers, because French is one of the most common working languages in international organizations.

There are thousands of international organizations, but they all fall into three main categories:

  1. Governmental or quasi-governmental organizations such as the United Nations
  2. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Action Carbone
  3. Nonprofit charitable organizations such as the International Red Cross

The sheer number and variety of international organizations offer you thousands of career choices. To get started, think about what kinds of organizations you might like to work with, based on your skills and interests.

Additional Resources

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International Job Opportunities

International jobs can be any career, anywhere in the world. You can assume that virtually any job, skill, or trade is done in a francophone country. Are you a computer programmer? Try a French company. An accountant? How about Québec?

If you are determined to use your language skills at work but don't have the ability or interest required to be a teacher, translator or the like, you can always try getting a job that's not tied to language in France or another francophone country. While your job might not require your language skills for the work you do, you could still speak French with colleagues, neighbors, store owners, and the mailman. 

Additional Resources