What can I do with languages? UoM Graduate Emily tells her story

iStock_000011532992Small International signsBy Emily Fenlon

When I graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in Chinese Studies last July, I was both excited and terrified at the prospect of finding a “proper job”. I already had some summer work lined up and I had secured a place on the British Council’s ELA programme in China for a year to improve my Chinese with the view of returning to work as a translator.

That was until I woke up one morning and began doubting the plan that had been set in stone since my return from my year abroad. These doubts led to me question what I actually wanted to use my Chinese for or if I actually wanted to use it at all. I withdrew from my place on the British Council’s ELA programme in China and started to have a long hard think about what I was going to do now I was no longer a student. Having a degree in any language opens you up to so many different job opportunities, whether you use your language or not. Here are some of the options that I have considered in the past and would recommend looking at if you are just getting started or need a back-up plan:


For me this seemed like the most obvious choice having naively believed that it was the only real option with my degree. I attended various talks by GCHQ and MI6 in my final year which gave me a better insight into the daily life of a translator. I would wholly recommend going to as many careers talks as possible as they help you to understand what the job is really like from somebody who actually works there. Listening to somebody else’s experiences can be invaluable in helping you decide whether you want to do that job or not.


Another popular option for languages students is going down the teaching route. There is a high demand for languages within schools and there are currently bursaries of up to £20,000 if you have a first class honours degree. There doesn’t seem to be much demand for Chinese in the world of secondary school teaching, but I am hopeful this will change. There are however opportunities aplenty for European languages and you even have the opportunity to intensively study the language and visit the country before you start your course/training for those of you who are worried your language might not quite be up to scratch.


TEFL or Teaching English as a Foreign Language is becoming increasingly popular for language graduates (and other graduates alike) wanting to swap rainy England for a sunny paradise. Although you may not be using your language in your job (you will be expected to speak English to the students), it provides a paid opportunity to see the world, improve your language and make lifelong friends. To get a good idea of whether this would be something you would be interested in post student life, I would recommend trying a bit of teaching on your year abroad, either officially as an ELA or voluntarily if you have chosen to study. I taught English in Hong Kong which not only showed that my knowledge English grammar rules needed some improvement, but also added some valuable experience and transferable skills to my CV.

What did I decide to do?

After working at Manchester Airport for 6 months after graduation, I decided that 2am starts weren’t for me so I started looking for the elusive “9-5”.

I decided to try and use my degree and improve my Chinese so I started working for a Chinese company based in Manchester doing some translation work. Six months of translating terms and conditions was enough to make me realise I missed the customer service environment so I booked in to have an appointment at the Careers Service to see what options were available. It was there that I found out about my MGIP opportunity to work in the Careers Service and I’ve now been here for almost 9 months. I still get to use my language as I run the Weibo account (Chinese version of twitter) but I’m also learning a lot of useful skills that I can take forward when I apply for something more permanent.

So if you’re coming the end of your degree, you decide actually quite like rainy England and that you’re not interested in translation or teaching, don’t panic. It may be a cliché to say that “the world is your oyster” but it truly is.

To explore what you can do with your language(s) beyond what I have already talked about, check out the Prospects page on languages and our guide on Careers using Languages. If you’re still unsure on what to do or want to have a chat, you can call us on 0161 275 2829 to book an appointment with a careers adviser.


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