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Bilingual or multilingual secretaries are employed to use their foreign language skills for a variety of administrative and secretarial purposes.

Many multilingual secretaries specialise in a particular industry, such as pharmaceuticals.

What does a bilingual secretary do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Bilingual or multilingual secretaries and personal assistants (PAs) carry out administrative work and, as the job title suggests, they do so in more than one language.

Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • answering telephone calls/taking messages in a foreign language
  • organising meetings and managing diaries
  • booking transport and accommodation for overseas visits/international visitors (managing travel itineraries)
  • translating documents from English to foreign languages
  • acting as an interpreter
  • handling foreign correspondence
  • meeting and greeting clients
  • typing and compiling reports
  • reviewing and recording expenses
  • filing
  • managing databases
  • recruiting, training and supervising junior staff

The role can also include some duties specific to the sector your employer works in: for example, if you work for a manufacturing company, your role might include some quality assurance or auditing work. It’s for this reason that many bilingual or multilingual secretaries end up specialising in a particular sector or industry.

Job titles vary according to the sector and the company: employers may advertise for bilingual/multilingual secretaries, PAs, executive assistants, administrators or team administrators. However, job advertisements can also specify the particular foreign language or languages required, for example: ‘French-speaking executive assistant'.

The work offers the possibility of promotion via climbing into more senior positions or by moving into related employment areas such as translating, interpreting, marketing or public relations.

Typical employers of bilingual secretaries

  • National governments
  • Private companies or manufacturers that have a great deal of international work
  • Commercial or financial organisations
  • Management consultancies and professional services firms
  • Banks
  • Law firms

Jobs are typically advertised via jobs boards, specialist recruitment agencies and organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

Qualifications and training required

Fluency in the appropriate foreign language(s) is essential, but formal academic qualifications tend not to be, although sometimes employers will ask for minimum qualifications equivalent to A levels/highers.

Employers may still ask for a minimum number of words typed per minute and, although shorthand is no longer asked for, it can be advantageous. It is possible to complete a secretarial training courses at further education colleges.

Many employers prefer candidates to possess some experience in the sector the employer works in or, at the very least, in previous office or customer service-focused roles. Relevant experience can be gained initially via temporary agency work, which can in turn lead to permanent work.

Key skills for bilingual secretaries

  • Fluency in the languages required
  • IT skills (often advanced MS Office skills and the ability to learn bespoke databases and other software)
  • Organisation, time management and the ability to multitask
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills
  • Teamworking
  • Initiative
  • Discretion: you could learn about confidential information
  • A flexible approach to work and the ability to cope with a changing, demanding workload
  • Organisational skills

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