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Old 08-10-2007, 10:43 AM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Michigan
Posts: 15,820
What Can You Do With A B.A. in Spanish? (job advice sought)

Yeah, so I just got back from my crazy summer touring the world. Now it's time to come back down to earth. I have to find a job (full-time for one year) while simultaneously putting together my graduate school applications. I plan to go into Latin American Studies and it would be great if I could use Spanish on the job, especially considering it's the thing I am (diploma-wise) most qualified to do.

So here I am, with a B.A. in Spanish (extensive reading and writing), a ton of ESL volunteer experience, and a social psychology research credit (I did the work in Spanish), needing an entry level job. The hits I get on seem to be customer-service oriented (working telephones, translating materials, etc) which would be fine. They all carry requirements about ''bi-lingual'' and ''fluency in Spanish.''

Can someone please tell me what the hell the actual definition of fluency is? Because I get asked whether or not I am fluent all the time, and I know it will come up in the job interviews, as that is the skill they need.

If they mean fluency as in, ''you speak Spanish as well as you speak English,'' then obviously I'm not fluent. But if they mean it as in, ''You can communicate just about anything, with limited grammatical mistakes, even though it might take a couple tries or you have to ask people to repeat themselves from time to time...'' well, that's more or less what I'm at, language ability-wise. When I lived in Mexico I conducted classes bilingually and interacted for two months in nothing but Spanish, but I made a lot of mistakes and certain accents are harder to understand than others, so WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

And then it's all about context. I figure if I got a customer service job, there would be lots of very repeated vocabulary, and it would be easy once I just mastered the limited context of the work I was doing. What I mean is, does it matter that I couldn't, say, interpret a locker-room conversation if I can fully communicate concepts like, ''left click your mouse on the little icon'' or whatever the hell customer service reps have to say? Because I can easily learn that stuff.

Sorry, this is kind of ranty. I'm just not sure whether I'm qualified for these kinds of jobs--and if I'm not, what options does that leave me? I've spent the majority of my college career working at restaurants, but one of those jobs is not going to help me pay off student loans before grad school--and besides, I think I'd rather walk barefoot on snails than work in another godforsaken restaurant. I think I'd even rather do retail.

Any advice that sounds like it is even remotely related to this post will be most gratefully appreciated.

Old 08-10-2007, 10:53 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 235
I'm a native speaker, and a medical interpreter. I'd say fluency is one level below native speaker, and I'd qualify you as fluent if you lived there for two months and didn't need assistance to bbuy food, see a doctor, etc.
Old 08-10-2007, 02:57 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Venial Sin City
Posts: 12,390
You might not be fluent by objective standards, but "fluency" probably means something different to job recruiters. You should be fine in a job that requires conversational Spanish, less so in translation work. Apply for these jobs, but justify your skills in the interview if needed, or ask for clarification from the HR. I have known people who have fewer skills than you, and seem to get by in conversing with Spanish speakers, although they may need to get more practice with technical terms.

At least you have a marketable language, although I'm not sure how widely used Spanish is in MI. Good luck.

-tlh, minor in French, coursework in Japanese.
Old 08-10-2007, 03:05 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: noitacol
Posts: 4,562
My guess is it varies from job to job. Essentially fluent in a job context means "good enough so you don't have performance problems." Depending on where you go with your career, there are certifications you can get that would help you market your skill. Here's a link to start

I have a friend who owns a translation company. He doesn't believe in having people translate (written material) into a language that isn't their native language. Of course, some jobs may have lower standards, but generally I agree with him. With written documents there can be legal liability and there's no interaction like there is with interpersonal communication to make sure you have it right.

I use the word proficient to describe my skill in Spanish. When I used to consider myself fluent, I would dream in Spanish. If I were speaking in Spanish, I'd often prefer to continue speaking in Spanish with a native speaker rather than switch over to English, even if they knew English. I have done some customer service work in Spanish, when I worked in a call center and we had few to no truly bilingual reps. It was doable, but if I'm honest with myself they didn't get as good of service as they would have with a truly bilingual rep.

I would, however, say go for it in terms of applying for the bilingual CS jobs. You have little to lose and it does sound like a good option for you considering your background and plans.
Old 08-10-2007, 03:40 PM
Join Date: Apr 1999
Posts: 7,090
Medical facilities and social services are always looking for bilingual types. The social psychology research might be an asset, too.
Old 08-10-2007, 03:55 PM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: North Carolina, USA
Posts: 3,030
One friend who has her BA in Spanish works for our county school system, coordinating services for the children of migrant workers.

My sister-in-law works for the Department of Social Services doing in-home visits with Spanish-speaking mothers who have premature or special needs babies. She's also worked as an interpreter in the county courts.

Another friend works for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker NGO, and a third friend until recently worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a union representing migrant farmworkers.

Last edited by burundi; 08-10-2007 at 03:58 PM.
Old 08-10-2007, 10:20 PM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Michigan
Posts: 15,820
although I'm not sure how widely used Spanish is in MI.
We are, in fact, the 7th largest migrant farmworker state, which means Spanish is widely used in Michigan. Additionally, I live a stone's throw away from Detroit, (a half hour), which holds a very large number of Spanish-speakers and has its own ''Mexicotown'' (where I used to volunteer.) So fortunately there is a lot of need here, though I plan to do my doctoral work somewhere where there is even more infastructure, like maybe California.

Thanks all of you for your wonderful advice. I guess the bottom line is that it's not for me to decide whether I'm good enough, it's for the prospective employer to decide. I am really excited because there is a job opening for bilingual customer service rep at a nonprofit debt counseling agency that I happen to love. Wish me luck!
Old 08-11-2007, 07:12 AM
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: USA/female/40s
Posts: 3,985
Good luck.
My advice is not to stress about it. When I was on the job market and employers wanted to test my Spanish skills, they never expected anything near native fluency. You're probably more fluent than you think you are, because for the past several years you've been measured and criticized by people who think you're supposed to sound exactly like a native. You're not.
Old 08-11-2007, 12:11 PM
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Montreal
Posts: 20,201
Originally Posted by olivesmarch4th
What Can You Do With A B.A. in Spanish
Ear-lye in the morning.
Old 08-11-2007, 02:38 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,282
Originally Posted by matt_mcl
Ear-lye in the morning.
Ha - that very song had just finished playing when I read this thread. (Done by Great Big Sea)

Last edited by Achren; 08-11-2007 at 02:39 PM. Reason: Parenthesis come in pairs.
Old 08-11-2007, 09:45 PM
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between the Moon and NYC
Posts: 13,018
You might also consider Spanish-language broadcasting. You may not need to speak Spanish spontaneously, but you do need to know how to read it fluently and correctly. (How's that for alliteration? ) You may also get some writing experience.

Old 08-12-2007, 07:18 AM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Michigan
Posts: 15,820
Ear-lye in the morning.
Ah, you catch on fast.

Though sadfully, that musical is still on my list of things to see.
Old 08-12-2007, 08:28 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Under the lion's paw
Posts: 13,267
How about teaching ESL in the school system?
Old 08-12-2007, 10:59 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Portlandia
Posts: 38,291
Peace Corps.

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