Linguist Career Information
What a Linguist does
A career in languages is as varied as it is interesting. For example, as a linguist you'll help people bridge the gap between countries and cultures. As the cliché goes, “If you want to understand a person well, then speak to him in his language”. This field holds opportunities such as:
Interpreters: This is what we call mixing business with pleasure. As an interpreter, you will accompany business executives and government officials on their trips. Here, you'll not just be helping two people communicate but you will also represent your firm/country. The job calls for sensitivity to cultural differences. While interpreting, you have to make sure that you retain the meaning of the original sentence.
It's a tough job, as you'll be interpreting simultaneously during conferences, meetings, speeches, etc. The interpreter in a sound proof room listens through headphones to the source speech and almost spontaneously interprets it to the target language into a microphone. This automatically gets transmitted to the earphones of the listeners.
Translators: As translators, you will work with books, scripts and articles to translate them into the desired language. The works might be literary in nature or a simple technical manual. While interpreters work with the spoken word, a translator's work revolves around the written language.
Teacher: This is a broad classification. You could be teaching languages such as Hindi, English or any regional language in schools, colleges or even hold private courses for those who just wish to learn the basics. The same applies to foreign languages.
Linguist: You will be an expert in the origin, evolution, development, and contemporary form of various languages. You will research to find out the latest developments in different languages. You will advise companies in certain fields like software companies developing speech recognition software. You will also advise them on phonetics and other features of speech.
Well, the list of job opportunities for linguists is just endless:
• You could work as a translator either in newspapers or publication houses.
• MNCs: You could find work with multinationals that have set up their offices in India. They will need a translator or an interpreter until they learn the local language.
• Literature: Here, your expertise will be put to use in translating literary works of art, so that more and more people have access to good writing.
• International organizations: There are plenty of openings with The United Nations, World Health Organisation and others. Here you'll act as official translators to participants from different linguistic backgrounds who come to attend the meeting.
• International functions: Beauty pageants, discussion forums, group summits, etc. also depend a lot on translators to get their message across.
• Universities and schools: If you want to share your skills, you could work as a teacher. Most institutions the world over have begun to consider linguists as an important element of study. Indian colleges offer French, German and Sanskrit as alternative languages for study. This creates need for full time staff for the languages.
• Corporate sector: With more and more companies sending their staff abroad either for training or for work, the need for linguists in this field has really shot up. You could conduct short-term language workshops for the staff to get them conversant with the language of their place of deputation.
• Private Tutors: You could be your own master if you wish to. Holding language classes from the comforts of your home could be both convenient as well as lucrative.
• Travel & Tourism Industry: You'll be required to make brochures and books to be used as guidebooks to places of tourist interest.
• Bilingual secretaries are in demand with an increasing number of firms.
• If employed with a radio station, you'll work with a small team, listen to broadcasts from stations overseas, note and translate important material and make transcriptions for news service.
• Industries, government, international organizations, organizations undertaking translation work and research organizations also employ translators.
• You can work with both Indian and Foreign Government offices as an interpreter.
• Interpreters and translators generally work as freelancers as there is no organized recruitment structure and most often the job is task specific.
Many feel that the advent of technology and language software spells doom for linguists. But the interpreter provides the human touch that is so essential to communication.
Globalization has seen a multi-lingual scenario. Previously French, German and Spanish were considered to be the main languages. Now Chinese, Russian, Japanese etc., have opened up the markets.
Translation and interpretation are two fields where you can make money in this new scenario. With liberalization, many MNCs have set up offices in India and they certainly need interpreters and translators.
The first step in building a career in these fields is to build contacts. Prove yourself and everything will fall into place. With the growth of the tourism industry, the need for expert guides in different languages has increased.
Abilities & Traits Required
Linguists work for people in a variety of settings. Hence, adaptability, good interpersonal skills and being an extrovert are essential qualities. A pleasant demeanour, patience and an ability to withstand strain are some other qualities needed to make it big in this line.
As a linguist, you have to be good in languages as well as intonations, tone, etc. You must have the ability to manipulate a certain language in a skilful way. You need to be well versed with what's happening both in your backyard and around the world. This will help you in your translations and also in interpretation.
A good memory, concentration, rapid response, speed and accuracy are essential personal qualities here. Translators’ work requires meticulousness and accuracy of words. There should be clarity in your writing.
To be a good linguist, you need to be good at picking up words and have a memory for new sounds and their meanings. As a linguist, you will also have to go in-depth into the grammar of the language, be familiar with its different versions, word connotations, sentence construction and usage patterns.
For a job in this field you need to have at least an MA in a particular language. In case of a teaching job in a school or university, a diploma in that language will do.
The University of Mumbai offers various levels of training in different foreign languages. French language classes by Alliance Francias and German by Max Muller Bhavan are highly reputed. Chinese can be learnt from the India China Chamber of Commerce & industry.
Translators usually work independently and command the price they think is suitable. Depending on the amount of work you decide to take on, you can earn Rs. 25000-35000 a month. If the workload is exceptionally heavy, then the amount earned can even go up to Rs 45000!
Teachers start off at Rs. 20000-30000 a month and progress up to Rs 45000 or so. Private classes mint a lot of money. On an average, you can charge a student around Rs 5000-8000 for a month's course.
Even a beginner can charge Rs. 2500 a day. With some experience it can go up to Rs. 3000-4500 per day for interpretation.
In many a situation when a real multi-lingual scenario comes up with many languages, an English interpreter may also tag along with the team. The second interpreter will just have to translate from English to the target language, which makes the job easier.
Translators also earn very well, with Rs. 5-8 per word. And for all these, what you need is a flair for languages. For a tourist guide, the usual rate is Rs. 2000 a day for a beginner.
There is a lot of scope for people trained in Japanese. You can work as an interpreter, the current rate for which is Rs. 5000- 10000 per hour. You can also become a translator, whose charges can go up to Rs. 5000 per page.
Interview with a Linguist
Linguist Interview Kavita Ogale, Linguist
Kavita Ogale is a German teacher at the Max Muller Bhavan, Mumbai.
Tell us a little about your early years. I guess right since the beginning, I was good at languages. In fact in my class 10, I secured the highest marks in English in my class and scored in the high 90s in Sanskrit too. But I liked sciences equally and since I secured a good percentage, I joined the science stream.
My father wanted me to be a doctor, but I decided to pursue B.Sc. in Life Sciences at St. Xavier's College. The idea was to specialize in genetics and may be go abroad for further studies. I took up German more out of interest rather than anything else.
Why did you choose to learn German rather than any other language? Well, I had already studied a bit of French in college. Initially I had started learning Japanese. But I found it too tough and dropped out of it. German history and culture fascinated me and so I enrolled for the elementary course at the Max Muller Bhavan and haven't looked back ever since!
Could you take us through the training programme that you underwent at the Max Muller Bhavan? The Max Muller Bhavan has three elementary and three advanced courses. These can be done on a full-time or a part-time basis. While I was doing my B.Sc., I completed my first two elementary courses. I then shifted to the Max Muller branch at Pune, which had hostel facilities.
By then, I had decided to pursue German on a full time basis and wanted to be on my own as well. The experience there was wonderful. I was surrounded by people who shared my love for the language. The whole day was spent doing assignments, watching German movies, reading German literature or just conversing with friends in German.
The training programme is unlike the academic programmes in India. You sing songs, play games and quizzes and the like. But the examinations are a serious business. In fact the exams for the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th levels are administered from Munich, Germany.
After the sixth level one can do specialization in areas such as Business German and German literature. I did them too. In all I spent around two years in Pune studying German. If someone decides not to take breaks in between courses, they can finish all the levels in only one to one and a half years.
You also went to Germany on a scholarship. How did that come about? The Rajagopal trust has a scholarship programme for students aspiring to pursue further studies in German. The requirements are pretty stringent but in the end I was among the 12 candidates selected.
I went to Germany for a three-month programme and completed my seventh level from Goethe Institute at Dusseldorf. As part of the programme I also worked at the Indo German Chamber of Commerce, which is involved in building close ties between Indian and German industries.
It was fabulous. For the first time I got the opportunity to speak German with the Germans! They are so warm hearted once you break down the barriers of language, which usually separates them from non-Germans.
I also got the opportunity to travel all over the country. It is one thing reading about people and their life style in a book; it is an entirely different experience feeling it first hand.
So when did you decide to become a teacher? When I was in my third level, I saw how much fun my teachers were having and decided that I wanted to do the same. But becoming a teacher at Max Muller is not an easy task and so I looked at it realistically only after completing my sixth level.
At first, I trained within the institute itself under a senior teacher. After that I trained at Pune for another four months, as Pune is the central training establishment for South East Asia.
After this, I taught at the elementary level for a period of one year before going to Germany for a second time for a three-month teacher's training programme. It was only then that I received my teaching diploma that enables me to teach German anywhere in the world.
Can you tell us about your current job? Walk us though an average day. I have been working as a teacher at Max Muller Bhavan for the past few years. All teachers here work on a contract basis and the batches formed are allotted usually on the basis of seniority.
So my workload depends upon the number of students who enroll for the course and the number of batches thus formed. So I could be working seven days a week in the summer vacation or maybe two hours a day thrice a week some other time of the year.
So there isn't anything as an average day. Besides teaching, I also undertake translation work, which keeps me busy most of the time.
What kind of opportunities exist for linguists? Besides the opportunities in the field of translation and interpretation, linguists can also work as tourist guides. Of course, there are some additional requirements that need to be fulfilled but the need for German-speaking guides is enormous.
This is not restricted just to India. In Gulf countries such as Muscat, Indian guides are in great demand by German tourists.
Can people sustain themselves purely as a linguist? Definitely. But I think that linguists should not restrict themselves to just one kind of activity. You will find it difficult to make ends meet if you say that you will only teach and nothing else. Sometimes the work simply dries up and so you have to look out for some other avenue to utilize your linguistic skills.
Besides German which other languages have good scope? French is another language that offers good scope in a commercial sense. Japanese offers immense potential, especially in the field of translation. The language is tough to master and there are very few people who know it really well. So it is a very lucrative option.
What are the qualities required to be a good linguist? One needs to have an interest in a particular language. I couldn't do well in Japanese simply because it did not interest me enough.
On the other hand, my passion for German has brought me where I am today. Besides that, one needs to have a flair for languages. This comes naturally and more so in the case of Indians as we are a multilingual society.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about linguists? People think that if you are a linguist you know every word there is to know. That is simply not the case. Even now I sometimes come across questions for which I have to refer to the dictionary.
What is the best thing that you like about this job? I like making people understand the language. Language is not just about grammar and getting your tenses right. It is about people, their culture, their music, and even their songs. Exploring this alien world with others and explaining it to them is what I like most about this job.
- Siddhartha Roy