Careers for Spanish Majors: Job Descriptions & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in Spanish? Get real job descriptions and education requirements to see if a career in Spanish is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Spanish Career

Spanish majors have a multitude of career options available, whether as translator/interpreter, Spanish high school teacher, or English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher. Use the following chart to help you compare these careers:

Spanish Interpreter or Translators Spanish High School Teachers ESL Teachers
Career Overview Convert written or oral information from Spanish to English. Teach high school students how to read, write and speak Spanish. Teach native Spanish-speakers how to speak English.
Education/Training Requirements Bachelor's or master's (depending on specialty area) At least a bachelor's degree (may need a master's degree in some states) Bachelor's or master's degree
Program Length 4 years full-time for bachelor's; 1-2 years for master's 4 years full-time for bachelor's, 1- 2 years for master's degree. 4 years full-time for bachelor's; 2 or less for graduate degree or certificate.
Additional/Other Training Formal training in translation/interpretation Teacher education programs in college Teacher education program
Certification and Licensing Several optional certifications. State teacher certification State teacher certification
Experience Requirement Experience acquired through internships, volunteer experience or informal work Student-teaching experience Previous teaching experience
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Much faster than average (46%)* Slower than average (6%) (for all high school teachers)* As fast as average (9%) (for all adult literacy teachers)*
Median Salary (2014) $43,590* $56,310* $49,590*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Spanish Translators and Interpreters

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Spanish translators and interpreters convert Spanish content into English. Interpreters specialize in oral communication, while translators work with written communication. Translators and interpreters often work in specialty areas, such as healthcare, law, literature or business. Interpreters can work in various settings like schools, courtrooms or medical facilities, but translators typically work anywhere with computer and Internet access.

Requirements

The BLS stated that most interpreters and translators have bachelor's degrees, but the most important requirement for these professionals is that they're fluent in at least two languages. Although a Spanish major can provide some beneficial knowledge you can apply to the career, it's not necessary that you major in Spanish. Some interpreters and translators may hold master's degrees, especially if they specialize in a technical field, such as engineering or localization.

In order to learn the methods and techniques of interpreting and translating, you typically need to complete a specialized training program or course, which may be offered at a postsecondary school or other organization. Depending on whether your training focuses on interpreting, translation or both, you can expect to learn about fundamental job tasks, ethics and methods for interpreting and/or translating. You may participate in supervised practice, and you may also learn about interpreting or translating for specific fields.

In addition, you will likely need relevant experience before employers will hire you. The BLS recommended that you look for internship or volunteer opportunities or find informal ways to demonstrate your skills.

Based on December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • A Virginia court system needs a certified Spanish interpreter with extensive court interpretation experience to help Spanish-speaking individuals fully understand legal proceedings. Duties include interpreting in simultaneous and consecutive styles and translating court documents.
  • A California hospital system wants to hire a Spanish medical interpreter/translator to facilitate comprehension for its Spanish-speaking patients and families. Candidates need bachelor's degrees and two years of experience in pediatric health.
  • A California county needs a Spanish interpreter for its education office to help communications with families and students. The interpreter needs to travel across the county and help bridge communications between faculty and staff with parents and students on administrative matters. The applicant must be able to pass a county Spanish test.

Standing Out

Although some translator or interpreter positions do not require certification, the BLS recommended obtaining certification in order to stand out from competitors. There are several organizations that provide certifications, including the American Translators Association. There are also specific certifications in specialty areas. For example, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) has certification for Spanish interpreters and translators working in judicial courts, and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI), which provides certification for Spanish interpreters in medical settings.

Spanish High School Teachers

Spanish high school teachers teach the Spanish language to students in ninth through twelfth grade. Spanish high school teachers may work in public or private schools to teach students about Spanish grammar, Spanish writing, speaking Spanish and language comprehension. All high school teachers are responsible for testing and grading students and communicating with administrators or parents about each student's class performance.

Requirements

Most states require high school teachers to hold bachelor's degrees in the subject they wish to teach. In addition to majoring in Spanish, you also need to complete a teacher preparation program. The teacher preparation program provides courses and training sessions where you learn how to educate students. You also complete a student-teaching experience that takes place in a high school classroom.

All states require high school teachers in public schools to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary for each state, but you must typically earn a bachelor's degree in Spanish, complete a teacher preparation program, obtain student-teaching experience and pass a background check. States also require you to pass a general teaching exam and one that tests your knowledge of Spanish. Depending on your state, you may need to earn a master's degree within a specific time period after receiving your teaching license. Private schools don't typically require state licensure.

Based on December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • A Kentucky public school district needs a Spanish teacher to work at the county high school. The teacher must administer county-direct standardized tests and is expected to participate in other school and administrative activities.
  • A Texas high school is looking for a Spanish high school teacher with a bachelor's degree. The teacher must be trained in the state of Texas' Spanish curriculum and be licensed in Texas.
  • An independent school in Seattle wants a Spanish substitute teacher with a bachelor's degree and fluency in Spanish and English for its upper school department.

Standing Out

There are several professional associations that provide teachers with professional development training and other resources. For example, the National Education Association offers ideas for classroom management, lesson planning and teaching strategies. You can also join the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and receive benefits like access to trade publications, classroom resources and scholarships and awards for teachers.

English-as-a-Second-Language Teachers

ESL teachers instruct non-native English speakers on how to speak, read and write English. ESL teachers work at public schools, community organizations and community colleges. Most ESL classes are held in the morning or evening to conform to adult work schedules and family responsibilities.

Requirements

The BLS stated that ESL teachers typically need bachelor's degrees, but some employers may require you to have a master's degree. Colleges provide undergraduate and graduate programs in ESL training where you can learn communication skills and about the mechanics of how people learn languages. Although knowing Spanish can be advantageous for teaching an ESL class, it's not required.

Depending on your state, you may need to obtain a teaching license if you plan to work in government-funded programs. A bachelor's degree and completion of a teacher preparation program are commonly required to obtain the license.

Based on December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • An Indiana school needs a state licensed ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree to create a curriculum around learning how to use new technology.
  • A Connecticut adult learning center needs a part-time ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree and previous experience as an ESL teacher for adults.
  • A New Mexico university needs an ESL teacher to help foreign students with the English language. The candidate must have a master's degree, two to three years of ESL teaching experience and be able to work on-call.

Standing Out

Even though it isn't required to know Spanish to become an ESL teacher, the BLS stated that being fluent in the language can be advantageous since it allows you to communicate better with your students. Additionally, you can take continuing education courses that help you learn new teaching methods and provide current research about ESL teaching.

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