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Language & Careers


Careers in Government

The need for multilingual workers in roles across the government sector—from national security and intelligence, to diplomacy and the military—is both urgent and growing. Language proficient professionals make a difference protecting justice, saving lives, and promoting peace.

The Need: Communicating Widely to Better Serve 

The facts are undeniable. Despite the constant presence of other languages and cultures in their assignments, fewer than ten percent of U.S. Department of Defense military service personnel and only 13 percent of CIA employees speak a language other than English. Furthermore, nearly a full quarter (23 percent) of 2016 State Department overseas language-designated positions were filled by Foreign Service Officers lacking the requisite language proficiency.

For those seeking to enter the government workforce, language skills have become more than a resume-boosting asset. They are of vital importance to the safety and effectiveness of both the professionals themselves and the citizens they protect and serve. Additionally, when culturally competent and multilingual government workers are able to improve communication between individuals and nations, they play a vital role in shaping our international image and promoting trust and good diplomacy.

More good news: Not only will strong language skills help you secure an interview for your dream job, but many times agencies offer hiring bonuses for those proficient in other languages.

Student & Professional Testimonials

On Their Way: Student Profiles

Idaho Teen Earns Federal Scholarships to Learn Tajiki and Prepare for a Career in Service

Passionate about languages and Middle Eastern cultures, Jack learned Tajiki abroad as a NSLI-Y scholar in high school; he’s now headed to college with an ROTC scholarship and aspires to work for the CIA or State Department after graduation.

On the Job: Professional Profiles

Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Uses Language Skills Abroad and in Cyber

Jacqueline Jones, an Iowa native, knew she wanted to put her language skills to use in a fulfilling career: After multiple deployments overseas in the U.S. Army and an ankle replacement, she has begun her new role at the National Capital Region Cyber Protection Center. 

From Peace Corps to USAID: Dagbani Language Skills Made the Bridge

Kentucky native Bethany Davidson became fluent in Dagbani while volunteering in Ghana; when a USAID position became available in the region, she credits her solid experience with the local language and culture for much of what happened next.

Iranian Immigrant and U.S. Army Veteran on Teaching Soldiers Her Native Farsi (+video)

Founder of Academy of United States Veterans, Assal Ravandi speaks to the importance of sharing Farsi and Dari phrases with fellow soldiers deployed in the Middle East during her military service.

Engaging the World: U.S. Global Competence for the 21st Century (+ videos)

Watch former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others discussing the impact of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs, as well as language or cultural skills, on international peace.

Getting Started: Funding Opportunities and Job Search Pages

Many opportunities exist to help fund your preparation for a future career in government service—including support for language learning and study or internships abroad. In addition to funding available through your school or local community, check out these federal scholarships. Then browse the career sites of some federal agencies currently seeking employees proficient in more than one language.

Federal Grants and Scholarships

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Gilman Scholarships help to fund study and intern abroad programs for Federal Pell Grant recipients.

Boren Scholarships

An initiative of the National Security Education Program, Boren Scholarships fund undergraduate study abroad with a focus on less commonly taught languages and countries traditionally underrepresented by study abroad programs. In exchange, Scholars agree to work for the federal government for at least one year after graduation.

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program

A program of the U.S. Department of State, the CLS Program is a fully funded overseas summer immersion program promoting the study of critical languages. Languages currently offered include: Azerbaijani, Bangla, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. The CLS Program is administered by American Councils for International Education.

Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship Program

The U.S. Government awards FLAS grants to higher ed institutions, who then select modern language undergraduate and graduate students for academic-year or summer allocations. For consideration, students must submit an application through a grantee institution.

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Program (+ high school)                         

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the NSLI-Y program offers high-school students and recent graduates merit-based scholarships for overseas immersion opportunities to study less commonly taught languages.

The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program

Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Fellowship provides funding for the final year of undergraduate study and first year of graduate study in a field related to the Foreign Service (including specialization in a language). Successful completion leads to employment by the Foreign Service.

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Programs, U.S. Department of State (High School)

The American Youth Leadership Program

This 3-4 week overseas program allows high school students and adult mentors to explore another culture firsthand while participating in homestays, language study, leadership training, and community service.

The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute

For four weeks, the U.S.-based Institute unites 45 European youth with 10 American high school students to foster transatlantic relations and a sense of shared values.

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad Program

YES Abroad allows U.S. high school students to study abroad in a predominately Muslim country while living with a host family for an academic year.

The Youth Ambassadors Program

This 3-4 week program centered on community service and team building sponsors the exchange of high school students and adult educators with Youth Ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Youth Leadership Program

A 3-4 week exchange of high school students, the Youth Leadership Program fosters mutual understanding, respect, and civic engagement. Countries currently available include Indonesia and Iraq.

For Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Students

Air Force Foreign Language Flagship Scholarship Program

A joint initiative between Air Force ROTC and the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO), this program helps Air Force ROTC students studying Arabic, Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, or Turkish at a Language Flagship institution to fund their academic studies as well as intensive immersion experiences abroad with a goal of reaching ILR Level 3 proficiency in that language upon completion.

Army Foreign Language Flagship Scholarship Program

A partnership between Army Cadet Command and the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO), this program helps ROTC students studying Arabic, Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, or Turkish at a Language Flagship institution to fund their academic studies as well as intensive immersion experiences abroad with a goal of reaching ILR Level 3 proficiency in that language upon completion.

Project Global Officer (Project GO) Scholarships

A Department of Defense initiative administered by the Institute of International Education, Project GO provides funding to ROTC students for critical language study both at home and overseas.

Additional Articles and Resources

Foreign Service Institute Prepares Government Workers for Global Careers

FSI offers more than 800 courses both on-site in Arlington, VA, and via distance-learning—including classes in over 70 languages—and serves as a resource to future diplomats and current Foreign Service Officers throughout their careers. The School of Language Studies (SLS) alone counts over 500 instructors.

Diplomat in Residence Encourages Fellowships, Internships, Language Learning 

Jon F. Danilowicz, the U.S. State Department Diplomat in Residence for New England, spoke with students at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University about the value of programs like the Consular Fellows Program and the Virtual Student Foreign Service—as well as language proficiency—to those interested in State Department careers.