World Languages and Cultures

Career Opportunities


Health Professions

Health professionals of all kinds - medical students, doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, therapists, medical researchers, hospital administrators, and health educators - are finding more and more that a knowledge of certain foreign languages is urgently needed in dealing with patients, especially in metropolitan areas where there are many ethnic minorities (people who are unable to speak English well enough to describe their symptoms or understand medical instructions). Many hospitals in the U.S. have hired bilingual personnel and utilized the services of volunteers to deal with these groups.

Laboratory technicians and specialists in medical research need a reading knowledge of the languages in which research reports are written. Russian, German, and French are the most frequently used foreign languages for research material in the biological sciences. The long delays that are common in the published translation of such materials can seriously retard research in these highly specialized fields.

Social Work

Social workers assist individuals, families, groups, and communities in using social services to deal with problems such as poverty, unemployment, poor housing, or illness. In cities where there are concentrations of minority groups and immigrants, social workers come into contact with many people who do not speak English.

Library Science

The librarian may use foreign language skills in a variety of ways including book selection, classifying and cataloging, serving users who speak other languages, and working abroad in U.S. Government libraries, centers, and schools or those operated language, a librarian must know enough of the language to have a general idea of what the book is about.

Special Collections Librarians collect and organize books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and other materials while Reference Librarians answer questions and suggest sources of information that may be useful. They both should know at least one foreign language, and preferably more than one, in order to have access to as wide a range of reference materials as possible.

Service Organization

Many social service organizations need people with foreign language ability, both in this country and abroad. The International Visitors Information Service (IVIS) maintains a booth at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. to provide information and language assistance to foreign visitors arriving there. Catholic Relief Services, the YMCA and YWCA, the Red Cross, and other charitable and service organizations sometimes need bilingual workers and volunteers to work with Hispanic and other ethnic groups. Often caseworkers must deal with people in emergency situations and comprehend their problems, which are complicated by a lack of language skills, as well as cultural misunderstandings.

Law & Law Enforcement

Over 600,000 Americans work as lawyers. Knowledge of a foreign language can be a direct, practical asset to the lawyer who works with members of the ethnic minority and immigrant groups, does legal aid work, or specializes in international law, maritime law, patent law, or international business. In these fields, lawyers who lack language skills may find themselves dependent on the services of translators and other intermediaries, which can be time-consuming, awkward for both lawyer and client, and in many cases expensive.

In law enforcement, police officers investigate crimes, arrest suspects, and direct traffic. They also have divisions that specialize in investigations of certain types of crimes, such as burglaries or homicides, or in other activities such as juvenile affairs. Depending on the ethnic makeup of a community, foreign language skills would be an extremely important advantage. Other police protection occupations include Sheriffs, State Police Officers, and State Highway Patrol Officers.

Volunteer Agencies

Peace Corps

Over 5,000 volunteers serve in 58 countries throughout the world to help developing nations meet their needs for trained personnel and promote mutual understanding between Americans and the people of those countries. Peace Corps volunteers must know or be trained in the language of the country where they are assigned.


The VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program responds to needs identified by communities in the United States, providing full-time volunteers for projects sponsored by local nonprofit organizations. A knowledge of Spanish, French, or Indian languages are needed for projects involving those ethnic groups.