Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Increasing Value of Language Skills in the US

Gustavo Acosta, Linguistic Resources Coordinator, TransPerfect Translations
Gustavo Acosta, Tahrir Square, Cairo

Throughout my grade school years studying Spanish I never quite comprehended the true value of learning a second language.  I knew that it was treated as a core class in my school, and that the Cuban half of my family wanted me to love the language, but I didn’t. That was because I didn’t know what I would ever want to do with the language and opted out of Spanish classes altogether as soon as I had the chance. In an ironic twist of fate and my pursuits, I’ve made the business of languages my profession not only as a recruiter for people with multilingual skills, but also as an Arabic specialist at one of the world’s largest translation services companies.  I utilize my language skills in communicating with linguists, and get to see just how many ways language skills can be used as a profession.

The utility of multilingual skills goes well beyond simple dialogue between people, and are used in almost every field of work.  As new communication technologies emerge, and globalization increases, so does the market for linguists, whether it is from a need to translate a drug patent into Korean, an Android phone apps into Chinese, or help a global company create it’s customer support line in 20 different languages.  These are all relatively new aspects of the translation industry, and call for more specialized linguists familiar with new and unique terminologies and technologies. 

         Having the task of recruiting freelancers for company that provides services ranging from on-site interpretation to soft-ware design means that I work with a very diverse cast of people.  While many of them have taken up translation services as a career, others have used it as a supplementary skill that has helped them achieve different careers goals, such advertisement professionals looking to get into foreign markets, and US auto workers that translate engine manuals from Japanese.  Language skills can help get ahead in competitive fields while also offering  a reliable means of gaining supplemental income for freelancers.  

         Foreign language classes in the US are typically geared towards making the students want to travel to the countries where the language is spoken, yet this still misses half of the skill’s value.  While there are certainly great opportunities to use language skills abroad, students should also see the valuable opportunities for linguists here in the US.  With the United States having the world’s largest immigrant population, consumer market, and as the largest benefactor of foreign direct investment, other countries are looking to bring their ideas here, and need native English speakers with knowledge of local culture and informal norms to help them do so.  With the US being such a diverse place already, there are tremendous amounts of ways to apply language skills in a career path for those that aren’t looking to move abroad.  Looking back at when I was a High School student and relinquished my Spanish studies out of disinterest moving to Latin America, I wonder if I may have been invigorated enough to stick with it had I only seen a fuller picture and just how valuable such a language skill in the US can be.


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