Want to be a language teacher, language app developer, translator, or anything else that involves using languages in your job?
Take a look at the five essential skills you will need to be successful in a language career, and some tips on how you can develop them!
Good active listening skills will help you win friends and become successful in any career. Active listening is about showing you care, empathising with the person you’re listening to, and building productive relationships with people.
If you’re working in languages, here’s how being a good listener can help you:
If you’re teaching languages, you need to listen for cues that your students will communicate to tell you about what motivates them, what makes them tick, and what frustrates them. You also need to show your appreciation of what your student is saying when practising speaking skills with them – otherwise they might feel discouraged or worry that they’re not doing well enough.
If you’re an interpreter, you need to be able to listen for less obvious cues such as tone, the speaker’s mood, or implied messages that are not always communicated directly. All of these will influence how you decide to translate any given sentence. Being a good listener will help you do it accurately.
If you’re a language blogger or making your own language products, you need to listen to your audience, and identify the concerns and questions they have. This will help you create blog posts and products that solve language learners’ problems and bring success to your business.
How to develop your listening skills
Learn to take a genuine interest in other people. Ask questions more than you talk about yourself. Listen to understand, not just to reply. Some people have a tendency to formulate counter-arguments in their head while the other person is speaking. This means that they’re not being fully present or focusing on the other person. Good listeners listen carefully, try to find out the details of what the other person is saying, and ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ before jumping in with their own two cents.
Don’t make up your mind before you’ve properly heard what the other person has to say. Practise having conversations whose sole purpose is for you to find out about somebody else’s point of view. Treat it as an educational activity – you never know what you will learn!
Paraphrase what you’ve heard. Being able to do that is a useful skill that will show your conversation partner that you’ve heard what they said and that you’d like to find out more. You can say, for example, ‘So what you’re saying is … – how does that make you feel?’ or ‘What I’m hearing from you is that … – can you tell me a bit more about that?’.
Try not to offer solutions unless it’s clear your conversation partner is looking for one. This can be done even if you’re a language teacher – when your student asks you what the correct answer is, instead of giving it to them, ask them what they think it is. They might get it right and if they do, they’ll be more likely to remember it.
Use body language that helps you establish a connection with your conversation partner. Maintain eye contact, lean in to show you’re listening, nod to show understanding. Consider learning about the body language in the culture whose language you’re speaking or the culture your conversation partner is from.
Communication skills include things such as making a conversation, being able to connect and establish trust, and using positive and welcoming body language.
Here’s how communication skills will help you succeed in a language-related career:
If you’re a language coach or tutor, you will be able to build trusting and productive relationships with your students.
If you’re an interpreter, your work will help make conversations between people flow.
If you’re working in publishing or trying to promote your own language products, you will be able to communicate their value more accurately and establish business partnerships more easily.
How to develop your communication skills
Put yourself in another person’s shoes. If you’re trying to master the art of presenting (for example, if you’re a teacher or lecturer, or if you’re trying to sell your new language app!), try to understand what your audience wants to hear first. What are they interested in? What are they worried about? What are they motivated by? Put yourself in their shoes and you’ll be more likely to establish a connection and communicate effectively.
Practise being patient and fully present. Being a good communicator is not just about speaking clearly – it’s also about giving the other person time and space to express their own thoughts. For example, if you’re running a language workshop with company employees, don’t move on to your next point straight away. Instead, give people a chance to ask questions. And wait for questions for longer than two seconds – sometimes, groups need a bit more time to gather their thoughts and there might be some shy people out there who need a bit more time or encouragement before they speak out.
Learn to reach out before somebody else does. This is a great tip which applies both to professionals who work in languages, and language learners themselves. Rather than waiting for somebody else to take the first step, do it yourself. Smile instead of waiting for the other person to smile first. Ask somebody how their day has been before they ask you. Go up to somebody at a networking event instead of waiting to be approached. You will develop your communication skills by increasing your confidence and stepping outside your comfort zone.
Time management is also something that can make you into a successful professional regardless of the field you’re in.
However, managing your time effectively is particularly important if you want to be a successful language learner, and ultimately have a career relating to languages.
Time management will help you move towards your own language learning goals more quickly. The better you get at the language your career is linked to, the more value you can add for the people you work with.
If you’re a language teacher, you will be able to do your lesson planning more effectively and you’ll learn tricks that will help you save time, such as reusing the same materials for multiple lessons, or adapting activities to suit different levels. That way, you won’t be duplicating your effort.
If you’re a teacher, you will also be able to structure your lessons in a way that provides the most value to your students, so that they can see their progress following each lesson.
If you’re a language blogger, you will be able to schedule your writing in, regardless of how busy you are, to maintain a consistent publishing schedule on your blog.
If you’re a translator, you will be able to organise your working time in a way that allows you to work when you’re at your most productive. You will also learn time-saving tricks when using translation software.
How to develop your time management skills
Learn to do the thing you need to do the most first. What’s the thing that you absolutely need to do before you can move forward? Do just that and the next thing will follow.
Make scheduling things in into a habit. Block out time to complete different tasks, based on when you’re the most productive. Is it in the morning or in the evening? Schedule your most challenging work for then, and do other bits and bobs around it.
Set yourself deadlines. If you don’t have enough internal motivation to complete tasks, setting your own deadlines could be a solution.
Focus your effort on the things that add the most value. For example, if you’ve got to translate 20 pages of Spanish by the end of today, don’t get hung up on looking for a beautiful synonym of a word on page 1 for 20 minutes. Leave that one out until the end – if you’ve got some time left once you’ve finished the 20 pages, you can do it then.
Here’s how having good analytical skills can help you have a successful career:
If you work in language product management, create your own products or manage an online language community, you will be able to identify trends, such as what topics are popular, what people are talking about, or what problems different groups of language learners are facing. This will help you find solutions that will benefit your audience the most, such as a new language learning course or app, a discussion group focused on a particularly interesting topic, or a newsletter with tips that help people learn more effectively.
If you’re a language teacher, you will be able to use your analytical skills to figure out how your students like to learn. You will be able to survey them or use one-to-one conversations to collect data and insights, and translate them into specific actions and teaching strategies.
If you’re a translator or interpreter, you will be able to use your analytical skills to come up with ways of translating which are not literal but idiomatic. You will also find it easier to translate the more non-verbal messages, such as mood, tone or humour.
If you’re a researcher, you will be able to compile data and information, draw conclusions and present your research findings in a clear and accessible way.
How to develop your analytical skills
Encourage your brain to see both sides of every story. For example, next time you’re reading a novel, try to see the story from two or more different characters’ point of view – how would they differ? You can also do this when reading the news – try to imagine what the different interpretations of each event would look like.
Practise solving logical or mathematical problems. This will help you develop skills that you can use to analyse and synthetise information, for example when you’re thinking of the most effective teaching strategy for a particular student, or when you’re looking at Google Analytics data for your language blog.
Here’s why public speaking is a skill that will make you successful in a language career:
If you’re a language coach, you will need to motivate and inspire people. One way of doing that is through public speaking.
Speaking in front of other people is also an essential aspect of being an interpreter.
Public speaking will also help you find success if you’d like to become a language entrepreneur. Creating your own language products and marketing them very much depends on building relationships, and public speaking can be an important part of that.
Being a language teacher or a university lecturer will also require you to speak in front of people, and the better you do it, the more value you can add to your students’ experience, and – ultimately – the more successful you will be yourself.
How to develop your public speaking skills
Video yourself or get other people to offer you feedback. Deliver a short presentation and evaluate what went well and what didn’t. How engaging were you? How enthusiastic were you about the topic you were speaking about? Did you manage to retain your audience’s attention?
Watch TED talks. It’s a great way to learn how to be a good and engaging speaker yourself.
Whenever you read something interesting that you can refer to in your talks or presentations, write it down. It may serve as a good story or a metaphor that will keep your audience engaged.
So here it is! Can you think of any other skills that can make you successful in a language career? Share your thoughts in the comments below!