Bilingual Secretary

The Job and What's Involved

As a bilingual secretary or PA (personal assistant), you would provide administrative services in English and at least one foreign language. Your job might involve using languages constantly, or you may only need to use your language skills occasionally.

Your foreign language tasks might include:

  • Translating documents and letters.
  • Writing letters, e-mails and reports in a foreign language.
  • Translating or summarising articles from foreign journals.
  • Speaking in a foreign language on the phone or face-to-face
    interpreting at meetings.

You would also have general administrative duties, which could include:

  • Acting as personal assistant to a manager.
  • Organising meetings, making appointments and keeping a diary.
  • Arranging travel and accommodation for business trips.
  • Filing, typing and photocopying.
  • Updating computer databases.

If you worked in two or more foreign languages, you might be known as a multilingual secretary or PA.

In a full-time job you would typically work standard office hours, Monday to Friday, although in some companies this could vary because of international time differences. Part-time work, job sharing and temporary work may be available.

You would be mainly office-based. In some jobs you may need to travel overseas.

Starting salaries can be around £18,000 to £20,000 a year.
With experience this can rise to between £20,000 and £35,000, depending on the size of the company and level of responsibility.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most opportunities are in import and export, travel, banking, sales and manufacturing, although you could work for any company that has international clients. You could also work for international organisations like the European Union.

Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, and by mainstream and specialist recruitment agencies such as those listed on the Languages Work website.

Education and Training

To work as a bilingual secretary you will need a reasonable level of fluency in at least one foreign language, plus good IT and administrative skills.

Employers might ask for varying qualifications and experience, but you should have a good standard of general education. You would normally be qualified to at least A level standard in your second language, unless the language is your native tongue or you became fluent by living abroad.

You may have an advantage with a degree in languages or combined languages and business studies, although this is not essential. To get onto a language degree course you will usually need five GCSE's (A-C) plus at least two A levels (including at least one in a foreign language). You should check with colleges or universities for exact entry requirements.

Employers may prefer you to have a recognised qualification in administration, so you may find it helpful to take a relevant college course before you look for work. Colleges offer a wide range of full and part-time courses, including certificates and diplomas from:

- Pitman
- Education Development International (LCCI)
- City & Guilds

Most businesses have the greatest need for western European languages such as French, German, Spanish and Italian, but other languages like Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic are also in demand.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You can improve your business language skills with a wide range of courses, such as the following:

OCR Entry Level Certificates in Business Language Competence for French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian or Spanish.

OCR Level 1, 2 and 3 Certificates in Business Language Competence for French, German, Italian or Spanish.

ABC Awards in Practical Languages (over 20 languages available).

New language NVQ's from Edexcel (levels 1-3 in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Irish, Italian, Spanish or Welsh)

OCR (levels Entry-4 in French, German, Irish, Italian, Spanish and Welsh, and Entry level only in Japanese and Russian).

Many universities, further education colleges and private training companies also offer short courses in various languages for business.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A bilingual secretary needs:

  • Good spoken and written communication skills in English.
  • Fluency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in at least one foreign language.
  • Good organisational and multi-tasking ability.
  • Good computer and keyboard skills.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail.
  • Efficiency and the ability to prioritise your work.
  • The ability to work on your own initiative and also as part of team.
  • Discretion when working with confidential information.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, you could be promoted to PA or office manager.

Alternatively, you could move into translating, interpreting or international sales and marketing.

Improving your language skills and learning further languages can increase your prospects.

Get Further Information

Council for Administration (CfA),
6 Graphite Square, Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5EE
Tel: 020 7091 9620

Institute of Administrative Management,
Coppice House, Halesfield 7, Telford TF7 4NA
Tel: 084 4800 0182

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