Putting Your Languages to Work: How Languages Can Fund Your Travels Around the World

Posted on 10. Feb, 2016 by in Economics of Language Learning

Proficiency in a foreign language is more than a line on your resume or an impressive party trick—it’s a ticket to self-funded world travel. Most people think that you need to be a translator or language teacher to make a living off your languages, but the opportunities hardly end there. While those are both great options, there is plenty more available for hard-working travelers of any background, from social workers to engineers to plumbers.

In today’s globalized world, everyone from large corporations to locally-owned mom-and-pop shops needs to communicate with diverse audiences. From innovative startups like Uber and Air BnB, to language schools, backpackers’ hostels, and other odd jobs in big cities, jobs are available to young talent with language skills.

I’ve been putting my languages to work to travel the world for three years, and have yet to show up somewhere where my language skills couldn’t earn me a place to sleep or a paycheck. Here are five examples of jobs for other multilingual travelers (and where to find them!)

1) Answer a few phone calls in your language: technical and customer service agents

language travel jobs call center

Photo by plantronicsgermany via Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Major international cities are home to the headquarters or regional offices of multinational corporations, which means they often need to serve customers with diverse language backgrounds. When I arrived in Monterrey, Mexico, for example, companies like Cemex and Coca Cola’s Latin American headquarters were looking for bilingual English-Spanish call center agents, and they weren’t shy about hiring foreigners for the positions.

Cemex, a huge international cement company based in Monterrey, does much of its business with American companies across the border, and that business would come to a screeching halt without enough chatty bilinguals to help with troubleshooting and customer service. Booking.com, based in Amsterdam, is always looking for multilingual customer service reps and web content writers in its many regional headquarters, in world languages and more obscure ones like Estonian and Serbian. There are even staffing agencies like Chiang Mai Lanna Business Services that exist exclusively to place speakers of French, German, and other European languages in call center jobs in Thailand.

Depending on the country and its visa and labor laws, working for companies like these can be a great option for travelers wanting to spend a few months or more in a country and exercise their foreign language skills while they’re at it. Ask around after you arrive, or use job search sites like LinkedIn to scout out potential opportunities before you leave.

2) Teach in your language at an international school

language travel jobs international schools

Image via Pixabay under CC0 (public domain).

Lots of people spend a year teaching English in South Korea or Dubai, but if grammar lessons and English literature aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of opportunities to teach other subjects abroad. If you’ve got a university degree in nearly any subject and speak a world language like English, French, or Spanish, international schools all over the world are looking to add teachers like you to their staff.

In HondurasKazakhstanKenya, and nearly everywhere in between, you’ll find job postings for teachers of subjects like Mathematics and Computer Literacy who can teach to expat students or local students whose parents want them to get an international education in a second language. Prestigious international schools normally require a longer application process that’ll start well before you ever book your flight, but smaller private or parochial schools and poorer public schools in rural areas can often arrange more informal teaching jobs, often paying teachers in cash or offering free accommodation and meals in exchange for their work.

Check sites like Teach Away, where you can check requirements and relevant language skills for different jobs. For more informal arrangements, don’t be shy about googling local schools and knocking on doors to see if there’s a need for your skills.

3) Share your favorite city in multiple languages as a tour guide

language travel jobs tour guide

Image via Pixabay under CC0 (public domain).

Famous tourist attractions and frequently-visited world cities are always thirsty for tour guides who speak multiple languages. At the famous Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco, I arrived to a small army of a dozen or more local and foreign guides giving tours of the attraction in multiple languages, working for a small salary and donations from tourists. In New Orleans, I’ve met half a dozen or more people who either give informal tours for tips or landed short-term jobs with bigger tour companies. People are doing it all over the world, and the more languages you speak, the more likely you can too.

This of course isn’t the kind of job you can land on day one: tour guides will need to be fairly knowledgeable about the destinations they work in. Large, formal tour companies will have stricter visa and experience requirements, but smaller tourist locations in Latin America and Southeast Asia, for example, are often willing to be flexible for enthusiastic tourists who speak the local language and one or two more.

4) Speak the language of hospitality and make visitors feel at home

language travel jobs hospitality

Photo by George Redgrave via Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Hotels, hostels, and everything in between tend to attract a heavy multilingual crowd by their nature, and the more relevant languages you speak, the more appealing you are as a potential new face on staff. The fact that you’ve probably already got tons of experience in the hospitality industry as a consumer won’t hurt either.

Formal jobs in big cities and tourist hotspots are plentiful, though they may require previous hospitality experience. In other cases, especially in countries with strict working visa policies, you might look instead into a work exchange, like volunteering a certain number of hours a week in a hostel or bed and breakfast in exchange for a bed and some meals. Workaway.info is my absolute favorite site for these jobs–you’ll find a lot of hostel jobs where you work for a bed, but look a little harder and you’ll discover opportunities in hotels and bed and breakfasts too, where you usually get your own room and maybe even a little living stipend.

5) Hop between islands and languages on a cruise ship

language travel jobs call center cruise ship

Image via Pixabay under CC0 (public domain).

Cruise ships are basically little towns drifting across the sea, so you’ll find that most any skill you can offer on land will also be needed on a ship: from teachers and plumbers to yoga instructors and nurses, you’ll find vacancies for them all on most cruises. A little customer service experience and one or two relevant languages will go a long way toward landing a job for 4-6 months on a cruise ship, where you’ll have practically zero expenses and be able to save most of your salary for the next trip.

Especially if you’ve got a bit of experience in hospitality and speak another language, a cruise ship job might be the perfect way to put your languages to work for a few months while earning some cash. Languages like Spanish, French, and Dutch will serve you well on Caribbean cruises, and the tongues of Southern Europe, like Greek or Italian, will give you a competitive advantage in the Mediterranean. The more languages in which you can charm and chat with your customers, the better.

If you’re not certain what kind of job you could do with your skills and languages, check a site like allcruisejobs.com and browse the categories, or perform a search for your language and see what vacancies come up for it.

From Language Learner to World Traveler

These are just five quick examples of jobs you can do with a couple languages and a desire to see the world. If nothing here sounds quite like your cup of tea, try using job search sites like Indeed and LinkedIn and using your language and a country or city you’re interested in as search keywords. There are also a few sites that exist solely for you, the polyglot who wants to work their way through the world, like Multilingual Vacancies and Lingua-Jobs.

Whatever your field and interests, if you speak at least one other language and have a sense of adventure, there’s a perfect summer job or expat year waiting for you somewhere overseas. All you’ve gotta do is brush up on your language skills and go find it!


6 Tips For Making Language Learning Fly By

Posted on 08. Feb, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Slow Going

Nothing worth doing is fast or easy.

Language learners know this better than most people, I’d wager. You spend all day agonizing over nuances in grammar, trying to memorize obscure and hard-to-remember vocabulary, and attempting to get as much opportunity to speak as humanly possible so you can make those mistakes and get over them. You look up to those that speak better than you, who say to you “keep at it, and one day you’ll just wake up and realize you’re fluent,” and you want to box their ears. It’s a long, hard slog to victory. In this age of 3D printed weaponry and drone-delivered same-day packages, isn’t there an easier, faster way to learn?

You’re in luck! I’m your savior. Here are my six favorite ways to speed up the language learning process:

#1 – #6: You Can’t.

Oops. Hate to break it to you, but there is no way to “speed it up.” There’s no pill you can take or hypnosis you can fall under or electro-shock treatment you can endure to make language learning “go faster.” You’re stuck on the long slog with the rest of us, and you know what? That’s a wonderful thing.

Imagine a world where we could instantly learn anything we wanted by uploading it to our brains, drinking some sort of knowledge soup, or absorbing the souls of our vanquished enemies. Every student’s dream, right? No more hitting the books! No more cramming before a test! Just sweet knowledge, delivered to us in the blink of an eye.

Here’s the problem. If learning is effortless, then nothing is worth learning.

Take long-distance communication as an example. Time was, you had to sit down and write what you wanted to say on a piece of paper, then fold that paper up inside a protective sheath and pay for someone to carry it, by hand, to wherever you wanted it to go. This process took weeks, sometimes months, and was fairly expensive. And when you got a letter, it was a total delight. These days, we turn on our electro-boxes and send our digital messages instantly across time and space, no matter where the recipient happens to be physically. And what are we willing to pay for this incredible service? NOTHING! Not for your email or Whatsapp, anyway.

And why should we? It’s not worth paying for. Communication is so cheap it’s practically free (aside from your internet bill, I guess), and getting cheaper every day.

The fact that you have to actually work to learn a foreign language – for months and years you have to toil, doing hard mental labor – makes the victory that much sweeter. But that feeling doesn’t last. When you reach your goal of reading a book or having a conversation or being fluent, there will be a short period of elation. You did it! And then, the feeling will fade. It’ll just become another one of your skills, and you’ll forget the hard work that went into it, and you might even forget to appreciate that you have it. You can’t speed up the process of learning, but you can learn to take pleasure from the pain.

As I said before: nothing worth doing is fast or easy. So enjoy the ride, because it won’t last forever.

Pushing Past the Plateau

Posted on 03. Feb, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Mystery Solved

I gotta admit, lately I’ve been feeling a little out of the language-learning loop.

With a new job, my marriage coasting well through its second year, and a cat that gets bothered when I move any furniture around, I feel like I’m settling into a routine. Sadly, that routine doesn’t really involve any new languages.

I live in Berlin, capital of Germany, yet I feel like I have very few opportunities to practice German in my day-to-day. My new job is at an international school based out of England, so the office language is English. With the few German-speaking co-workers I do have, I ask them if I can speak German and they always agree, but it’s never gotten past office small talk. I excel when talking about my weekend plans, but…isn’t there more to it than that?

When watching a TV show on Netflix, I always try to see if there’s a German-dubbed version, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t think I’m learning anything new. Everyone on TV talks about the same stuff, more or less, and I feel like I’m understanding it at the same level I was a year ago. I went and saw the new Star Wars movie again, but dubbed into German, just because I was dying to hear something different for once (“lightsaber” is Lichtschwert. Wow!). Like the poor fellow in the comic above, I don’t feel that I’m really gathering any new information.

My wife is Italian, sure, but 90% of the time we speak English together, unless we’re in Italy. Even then, like my work environment, it’s just small talk (except instead of being about weekend plans, it’s about food, food and more food). Am I learning anything new? I’ve started trying to learn the Venetian dialect spoken by my wife’s grandfather, just to add a bit of spice and variety to my Italian day. Surely I haven’t exhausted my Italian learning opportunities?

I know what the problem is. It’s not that I’m out of the loop. It’s that I’m plateauing.

Egads! I’m now past conversational and trudging my way up Mt. Fluency. But it’s not a steep cliff, where every step is rewarded by visible progress. It’s a long, slow, boring hillside; it’s like Mt. Kilimanjaro, whose slopes are so gradual you just walk up. It’s not easy, but it’s no Everest, either. I’m in the language-learner’s doldrums, stuck in an endless routine of everyday conversations and unbearable chitchat. I’ve lost my forward momentum, dawdling here in a linguistic eddy while everyone else seemingly rushes down the river to fluency.

My step-father is a guitar instructor. He’s been playing guitar since he was ten years old – so nearly 55 years. He still spends four hours a day practicing, and he says plateauing is the hardest thing he has to deal with. How does he know, after so many years, that he’s still learning anything? He maybe be considered the greatest blues guitarist in his home state, but he still doesn’t feel he’s as good as his idols. How can he be sure he’s making any progress?

He can’t. But he still practices, because he knows he’s always learning something. And that’s the trick.

There’s only one way to get past the plateau, and that’s to keep walking forward. I may not notice that I’m learning, but I am. Sure, I’m not reading medieval poetry, but I’m holding conversations, and every conversation has new words, new phrasing, new ways of thinking about structure and grammar. I’m watching, I’m listening, I’m trying things out. I’ll never be 100% fluent, because that’s not a measurable thing. I just have to keep going, keep moving forward, and trust myself. Although the progress may not seem impressive, I’m still improving. I’ll always be improving, and so will you.

What about you? Do you feel you’re stalled in a language, not making any progress? How do you deal with it?