World Languages and Cultures

Career Opportunities

Government & International Intelligence and Law Enforcement

Federal Government

The Federal Government is the largest employer of Americans with foreign language skills, both in this country and abroad. Some agencies and departments have established "language essential" positions — but fewer than half are satisfactorily filled. This means greater opportunities for government employees with strong language capabilities.

The following U.S. Government departments and agencies require personnel with language skills:

  • Department of State: The Department of State employs 15,000 Americans around the world. The Department has stated that in the field of foreign affairs, it is placing increased emphasis on the language capability of its Foreign Service Officers who staff over 300 U.S. diplomatic and consular offices around the world and serve in Washington, D.C. as well. They are assigned duties in the economic, business, political, and cultural areas, and serve as consular officers in administrative positions. Overseas, they have extensive contact with foreigners, interpreting U.S. foreign policy, protecting the interests of Americans abroad, processing visas, and carrying on intelligence work.
  • Agency for International Development (AID): AID administers the majority of U.S. aid to over 60 countries. Positions include accountant, auditor, budget analyst, business analyst, information officer, loan officer, and personnel specialist.
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): The CIA is the primary intelligence-gathering arm of the United States Government. It employs U.S. citizens with backgrounds in international relations, political science, economics, history,.geography, engineering, physics, and chemistry, as well as foreign languages.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI employs linguists and also makes use of the language skills of its Special Agents who conduct foreign counterintelligence investigations within the U.S., and coordinate the domestic counterintelligence activities of other agencies in the intelligence community.
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): The DEA conducts domestic and international investigations of major drug traffickers, cooperating with Federal and local agencies as well as foreign governments. It provides special training in narcotic and dangerous drug control to U.S. and foreign law enforcement officers. DEA employs Americans fluent in the languages of the countries where they are assigned.
  • Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS): The INS is responsible for administering the laws relating to the admission, exclusion, deportation, and naturalization of aliens. Through its offices in the U.S. and abroad, it provides information to those seeking U.S. citizenship. INS personnel conduct investigations, detect violations of the immigration laws and determine the suitability of aliens to enter the U.S. They need a knowledge of the foreign language involved, together with the appropriate background in law enforcement and related fields. Border Patrol Officers use Spanish and many other languages.
  • U.S. Customs Service: The Customs Service collects revenue from imports and administers customs and related laws. It works closely with international organizations and foreign customs services. Some personnel are stationed overseas, making use of German, French, Spanish, Chinese and other languages.
  • United States Information Agency (USIA): USIA employs over 2,000 persons with skills in some 50 languages at posts around the world. The agency maintains information offices and libraries in many countries, and operates the Voice of America radio network. Many positions are filled by Foreign Service Officers, and there are also non career openings in clerical, library, radio and administrative work. The Voice of America radio service broadcasts news, educational, entertainment, and other programs in many languages. Candidates for VOA positions must have a college degree plus skills in communications, journalism, foreign affairs, government, and/or related social sciences. Fluency in the language is a must; a near-perfect accent ("native fluency") and a good speaking voice are required for announcers. The work, in Washington and abroad, includes writing, editing, translating, reporting special events, evaluating material for broadcast use, and production.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency: The DIA employs economists, geologists, translators, engineers and meteorologists in its intelligence-gathering work. In a recent newspaper advertisement the Agency sought Bilingual Research Technicians for diverse clerical and administrative duties: reviewing foreign newspapers and documents, translating, typing, preparing briefs and abstracts. Fluency was required.
  • National Security Agency: The NSA, which functions under the Department of Defense, employs research assistants, communications experts, and translators, all of whom must know foreign languages. This agency makes its appointments independently of civil service regulations.
  • United States Travel Service: The U.S. Travel Service is charged with promoting travel from foreign countries to the U.S. Employees of its six offices overseas must be fluent in the language of the country to which they are assigned, and possess appropriate experience and academic training in international sales and promotion including advertising, international economics, marketing and market research, business administration, and public relations. 
  • Smithsonian Institution: Founded in 1846 for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge", this institution publishes the results of studies, preserves over 78 million items of scientific, cultural and historical interest, and maintains exhibits devoted to American history, technology, and aeronautics. It also conducts educational programs and national and international cooperative research and training. Foreign language skills are useful in the Offices of International Activities, Folklife Programs, Museum Programs, International Exchange Service, and others.
  • Library of Congress: Personnel of the Library of Congress utilize foreign languages in a wide range of activities: acquisition, cataloging and classification, reference and research. The Library uses over 450 languages in connection with its more than 19 million books and pamphlets, the majority of which are in non-English languages.

Local Government

In areas where large numbers of citizens do not speak English, local governments need employees with foreign language skills. The extent to which foreign languages are used depends on the ethnic makeup of the community. Some cities and states have offices of bilingual programs which carry out and oversee special programs for such groups. Social Workers, Counselors, Home Economists, and Education Specialists are often hired to serve Spanish-speaking residents. In New York City, a Police Officer will find Spanish highly useful — over 500 police officers enroll each semester in Spanish courses offered by the City University of New York.

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