If you’re one of the millions of Americans whose livelihoods have been drastically altered by the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be searching for new ways to put cash in the bank. And you might be overlooking a skill you were practically born with: language.
If you’re reading this, you know at least one language. And if you’re fortunate enough to know more, the opportunities multiply.
From teaching and conversing to voice-overs and more, here are four ways to monetize your language skills, starting now.
Get Paid for Teaching or Conversing with Non-Native Speakers
One of the quickest ways to earn money with your language skills is to offer online conversation with language learners in your native tongue (or one you speak at a near-native level). Numerous sites match native or near-native speakers with learners. You set your own rates and working hours.
The non-profit Lockdown Language Exchange, which was born of the pandemic, pairs native speakers with language learners for casual conversation. The native speaker gets paid, while the learner supports someone in need and simultaneously improves their language skills.
Another popular online language learning service, italki, focuses on teaching and tutoring, rather than conversation. Instructors on the platform fall under two categories: Community Tutor and Professional Teacher. To be an italki Community Tutor, you must be 18 years or older and a native or advanced-level speaker of the teaching language. Professional Teachers—a tier above—must also have a teaching certificate or relevant experience.
Verbling is a similar platform that requires verifiable teaching experience, but not necessarily a certificate.
Other sites, such as VIPKid and Qkids, are more curriculum-focused and match English teachers with young learners in China. These programs require a bachelor’s degree and teaching credentials (such as a TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate), some of which can be easily obtained online.
Another option is to go solo and advertise your teaching or tutoring services on freelance job boards like Upwork and Fiverr. If you want to offer services beyond conversation, keep in mind that teaching a language requires much more knowledge, training, and experience than simply knowing how to speak it.
For example, CELTA-certified English teacher Simon Lane, based in Madrid, Spain, points out that students often ask questions about the many functions of the word get or the difference between separable and non-separable phrasal verbs—details that a native speaker may not be familiar with. Lane also notes that unless you work with a company that provides a curriculum (like VIPKids and QKids), you’ll need to come up with the course materials yourself.
Try Your Hand at Voice-overs
Voice acting may not be a quick way to monetize language skills, but it is an alluring option for those with experience or interest in acting.
Frankfurt-based American voice actor Leanne Maksin recommends beginning by refining your voice and acting skills: “A lot of people buy expensive studio gear and make a demo way before they’re ready. This can actually damage your career if you don’t know how to use the most important tool in [voice-over]: your voice.”
Maksin encourages aspiring voice-over artists to focus on acting: “Learning your ‘instrument,’ learning how to interpret copy, learning to ‘lift the words off the page,’ learning to act, is essential. Good voice actors are good actors, and that’s where anyone interested in getting into voice-over should start.”
US-based Edge Studio offers a wealth of beginning voice-over resources, including training and career services.
Multilingual? Translation Could be Your Next Move
If you know more than one language, translation could be an option for you. Translators work in every imaginable sector: from poetry to patents and consent forms to contracts.
But not everyone who knows more than one language is well suited for—or interested in—translation. Any professional translator will tell you that knowing more than one language is merely a prerequisite. Just as not everyone who plays the piano is a concert pianist, not everyone who knows two languages will be a successful translator.
In addition to having an exceptional command of at least two languages, successful translators have intimate subject matter knowledge; a profound understanding of the cultures associated with their languages; and excellent research, reading comprehension, and writing skills. They also have a knack for detail. It can take hours to properly research and “shepherd” a single term or phrase from one language and culture to another.
To succeed long-term as a translator, you’ll need to set yourself apart. This means investing in courses or even a degree, specializing in a particular sector (medicine or law, for example), acquiring language resources like subject-specific glossaries and dictionaries, purchasing specialized computer software, and possibly pursuing certification. The American Translators Association offers the US’s most widely recognized translator certification. While not required for most jobs, certification assures clients of your quality and can increase your earning potential.
You can start by offering your translation skills to friends and family, or by creating a profile on freelance job boards (like Fiverr and Upwork, mentioned above). Joining a professional association could also land your name in a directory. (Note that membership fees will apply, and most associations require proof that you’re a practicing professional.)
Put it in Writing: Content, Copy, Social Media
There’s high demand for written content. If you’re talented at putting your language skills in writing, you could get paid to create email and web copy, social media and blog posts, and white papers, to name just a few. Some transcribe (that is, convert speech to text—for recorded interviews, for example). To get an idea of the many types of services writers offer, start by browsing job categories on sites like Fiverr and Upwork.
As with many of the other opportunities above, you may have the prerequisite skill—in this case, writing—but you’ll need additional knowledge, training, and experience to be a successful professional.
To become a copywriter, for example, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with marketing and perfect your persuasive writing. Many copywriters will tell you the best way to learn the craft is by doing. Start by writing copy for your own profile or website and get feedback from an experienced copywriter. Then, offer to write free copy for friends. Get more feedback. Finally, start charging a small fee for your services. Again, sites like Fiverr and Upwork will put you in front of clients quickly.
Keep in mind that pay will be commensurate with your experience, and the more experience you have and the better your skills, the more you can earn.
No matter the service you offer, be sure to accurately represent your qualifications and set your rates accordingly. There are as many budgets as there are customers. Whether you’re looking to temporarily replace income or join the US’s 57 million freelancers in a more permanent career pivot, the same holds true: the more experience and training you accumulate, the more value you’ll provide and the higher the rates you’ll command.
Emily Safrin is a Spanish-to-English translator, certified by the American Translators Association.
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