Two Tongues are Better Than One

Fluency in a foreign language can translate into a world of professional possibilities.

So not everyone is giving the spoken word short shrift. Harley is just one of many African Americans to have taken his bilingual skills and turned them into money-making careers.

Harley never thought of using his language skill as a career booster. During his senior year as an English major at Tulane University in New Orleans, he took a beginners level Japanese course on a whim and liked it. But after graduating in 1995, Harley decided he wanted to learn more by taking the international route. “I got on the Internet and found an ad from Nova, an educational company that trains and sends Americans to Japan to teach English.”

Harley was chosen by Nova to go overseas to teach English for 14 months. But he soon decided his time in Japan wasn’t enough. “I wanted to go back, this time to actually study Japanese,” he says. “Teaching English in Japan only requires you to know rudimentary Japanese. I wanted to be fluent.” So he returned to Japan on his own with a tourist visa and spent three intense months studying Japanese at the Kai Conversational School. Now fluent in the language, he returned home and currently works as a copy editor for S Plus Inc., a small graphic design and advertising company in New York City. Harley, who earns approximately $30,000 a year, ensures that any text translated to English from Japanese is grammatically and syntactically correct, and often acts as an English/Japanese liaison officer between the company and its clients, such as Canon, the maker of cameras and other electronic office equipment. “I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m happy I found a job that allows me to use my bilingual ability,” he says.

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