Degree subjects

What can I do with a modern languages degree?

16 May 2023, 11:29

Find out about skills you will have gained from studying modern languages, get ideas for jobs you could do and find out about employment rates and popular areas of work for modern languages graduates.

modern languages

Language skills can lead directly into a career in translating, interpreting or teaching, and are also in demand in areas such as hospitality, law, publishing and business services. Modern languages degrees typically involve spending a year abroad and this can be an opportunity to find work in a field that interests you and gain relevant experience.

Many big graduate employers are multinational organisations and are keen to recruit candidates who are willing to work overseas and can liaise effectively with international colleagues. Studying modern languages is likely to develop interpersonal and communication skills that graduate recruiters value, as well as other key strengths. This guide will help you identify the skills you have to offer and explore a range of graduate career options, as well as setting out the careers modern languages students aspire to and the areas they find work in after graduation.

Skills for your CV

Here are some of the skills you should have acquired:

  • communication, including reading, writing and speaking foreign languages
  • gathering, assessing and interpreting information
  • leading and participating in discussions and groups
  • conveying meaning precisely
  • presentation
  • responding to others – from discussions in oral classes
  • attention to detail
  • boost in personal confidence and independence
  • listening to other people
  • resilience
  • problem solving

Job roles and career areas you could work in

The most obvious career opportunities for languages students and graduates are working as interpreters or translators. Careers in the diplomatic service and telecommunications also often require an aptitude for languages.

Language students’ interest in their degree subject often goes beyond a simple desire to understand the language and includes a passion for foreign cultures as well. This could be a great advantage in the business world. Many blue-chip multinational recruiters want employees who have a global outlook and are sensitive to cultural differences.

The following job roles would enable you to draw on the communication and problem solving skills developed during your studies. Further qualifications or training are likely to be required. Some of these careers would make direct use of your language skills:

For more information about potential employers and job opportunities, read our advice about using your language skills after graduation.

What do languages graduates go on to do?

Here’s what languages graduates who finished their degrees in 2018 were doing around 15 months after graduating, according to the graduate outcomes statistics reported by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2020.

Destination Percentage
Full-time employment in the UK 49
Part-time employment in the UK 11
Voluntary or unpaid work 2
Working and studying 11
Further study 13
Unemployed 5

Source: HESA's higher education graduate outcomes statistics, 2020

Key areas of employment for languages graduates

These are the top five areas of work taken up by 2018 languages graduates around 15 months after graduation, according to the graduate outcomes statistics reported by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2020.

Areas of employment Percentage
Education 24
Professional, scientific and technical 14
Wholesale and retail trade 11
Information and communication 11
Human health and social work 6

Source: HESA's higher education graduate outcomes statistics, 2020

Which careers attract language students?

Media and advertising was the most popular career choice for students of languages identified by a 2020 survey of more than 71,000 undergraduates carried out by Cibyl, a research business owned by the same company as targetjobs. More than one in ten ( 13.1% ) students of languages who participated in the survey said they were interested in this area. The most popular careers for students of languages were as follows:

Career Percentage
Media and advertising 13.1% expressed an interest
Public sector 10.1
Hospitality, leisure and tourism 8.4
Retail 5.7
Banking, insurance and financial services 4.6

Source: Graduate Survey 2020

What salaries can foreign languages graduates earn?

Want to know what graduates in your degree discipline typically earn in different locations? The Pay Index has provided targetjobs with a handy graduate salary tool showing just that.

Famous people with languages degrees

An aptitude for languages need not define what you do in your career. Spare a thought for the following famous people, who all studied languages:

  • JK Rowling – studied at the University of Exeter, where she was later awarded an honorary degree for her contribution to children’s literature.
  • Paula Radcliffe – the long-distance runner has a degree in modern European studies from Loughborough University.
  • Julia Donaldson – studied drama and French at the University of Bristol before writing award-winning children’s books such as The Gruffalo .
  • Huw Edwards – the presenter of BBC News at Ten studied French at Cardiff University.
  • Fiona Bruce – the newsreader and TV presenter read French and Italian at the University of Oxford.

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