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Using Foreign Languages at CIA

Foreign language skills are fundamental to the CIA’s success. Whether an officer is conducting a meeting in a foreign capital, analyzing plans of a foreign government, or translating a foreign broadcast, language capability is critical to every aspect of our mission. Language skills are the keys to accessing foreign societies, understanding their governments, and decoding their secrets.

Below, we pull back the invisible curtain to provide a glimpse into the lives of three CIA officers who frequently use foreign language skills in their jobs.

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A Day in the Life of a Support Integration Officer

Carolyn, Support Integration Officer

Directorate of Support

Tell us about your path to the CIA.

I graduated from college with a business degree but found myself highly unmotivated to work in the corporate sector. I knew I wanted to travel and immerse myself in other cultures, and I wanted a job with a good deal of variety and opportunity for diverse experiences. Bumping into an Agency Recruiter was a life-changing stroke of luck for me. The mission immediately resonated with me, and once on board, I realized I had struck gold with the amount of amazing field opportunities the Agency has to offer a Support Officer.

Why did you choose to work at the CIA?

To travel, to be challenged, and to play a part in keeping my country safe.

How often do you use your foreign language skills?

Daily. I was provided extensive language immersion training prior to deploying to my first overseas assignment in Latin America. Speaking the language not only allowed me to augment my impact to our overall mission in that region, but it allowed me to immerse in the various cultures in a rich way by making friends, attending social events, and eventually marrying a citizen of that region. While he speaks perfect English, I now have a very large Latin family, most of which speak only Spanish. My language skills are now intertwined in my family life and are also enabling us to raise multi-lingual children.

How valuable has it been to have foreign language skills in your job as a Support officer?

Invaluable. When we are given the opportunity to learn a language, I feel our ability to do our jobs expands infinitely. As a supervisor in foreign countries, I am able to advise and manage my team using my language skills. I am also able to negotiate with local vendors and execute dealings with local partners in a much more efficient manner. I was given the opportunity to take on very exciting projects beyond my typical duties, due to my language skills. All of these factors greatly increase not only my job satisfaction, but also my ability to contribute to our overall mission.

What has surprised you about working here?

The people. We are a family here, and for the most part, my experience has shown me what it means to take care of one another. My mentors, supervisors, and colleagues from a variety of assignments in a variety of countries, have been some of the most intelligent and inspiring individuals. I consider myself lucky to work amongst them and to be sharpened by our officers, both professionally and personally.

What advice would you give someone interested in working at the CIA and using their language skills?

We need officers who speak a multitude of languages. Your skills are invaluable in accomplishing what our organization is called to do, all across the globe. The Agency compensates language speakers very well, as those skills are highly valued and rewarded. To be able to use language skills to help accomplish our mission is a highly rewarding experience, and, with us, there is always the opportunity to learn more languages!

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A Day in the Life of a Technical Operations Officer

Flora, Technical Operations Officer

Directorate of Science and Technology

Tell us about your path to the CIA.

I joined the CIA when my brother-in-law said he knew an organization that could use someone with my technical AND language skills. As a native Spanish speaker I don’t think of my language as something that gets me the job— I think of it as something that helps me get the job done! I am and was more interested in using my technical skills: the fact that I could do all of that AND communicate with people in other countries made this a really good win-win for everyone!

Why did you choose to work at the CIA?

I kinda didn’t — the CIA found me, I would not have ever thought to apply as I could not see why they would need me, a photographer that speaks Spanish. Glad I was wrong and this worked out!

How often do you use your foreign language skills?

There have been times when I have used my language every day. I use it to translate text, write text, interact with foreign partners—it can be anything. There are also weeks that can go by and I have no need to use my language at work, but I am always glad it is a skill I have and I can rely on it consistently, and so can the CIA. I have also used my skills to serve as an interpreter for very senior level meetings translating for the seniors in the DNI and DS&T.

How valuable has it been to have foreign language skills in your job as a Technical Intelligence Office (TIO)?

I think the value has been tangible AND intangible. I do receive financial compensation for my language skills. The Agency wants me to keep my skills fresh so they can call on me, so I do. Conversely I am sure I have saved the organization a good bit of money by avoiding to have to hire an interpreter. I have learned a great deal as well when traveling with colleagues whose expertise is outside of my own, but for who I can serve as an interpreter. This allows me to learn their skill set, as well as save the government additional funds.

What advice would you give someone interested in working at the CIA and using their language skills?

APPLY! Your language skills will be an edge, and a skill many will not appreciate, but one you will ALWAYS have in your back pocket. It can be the icing on your skills set cake.

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A Day in the Life of an Analytical Methodologist

Brian, Analytic Methodologist

Directorate of Analysis

Tell us about your path to the CIA.

I spent several years in the private sector prior to joining the CIA. Although I enjoyed my profession, I recognized that I would never be able to use my foreign language skills. My wife and I started to discuss a possible career change. It never occurred to me that the Intelligence Community could even be an option until my wife came across the Analytic Methodologist position on the CIA’s website and suggested I apply.

Why did you choose to work at the CIA?

I chose to work at the CIA because I knew it would be the best place that I could use my geospatial skills and my passion for foreign languages to contribute to my country in a significant way.

What is a typical day for you like?

One of the things I love most about my current position is that there really isn’t a typical day. My team leads an annual project and we are often asked substantive questions from policymakers related to our account. However, I spend the rest of my time using my language skills to exploit and analyze information from various sources.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Being able to actually use my language skills to fill collection gaps and answer intelligence questions that would not have otherwise been answered.

What advice would you give someone interested in working at the CIA and using their language skills?

The number one piece of advice I would give someone interested in working at CIA and using their language skills would be to never give up pursing their passions, regardless of where they happen to land in the organization.

Interested in using your language skills at the CIA? Check out these language-professional employment opportunities:

While the language-professional positions offered at the CIA may be the first to come to mind, officers in all positions at the Agency have the ability to contribute their language skills to protecting the nation. Check out the positions highlighted in the article:

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