How to Become a FBI Linguist

Since September 11, 2001, the FBI has significantly ramped up its linguistics division so that almost 77 percent of the world’s languages may be immediately translated.  In the past, the FBI relied on private firms or interpreters to contract services, but in the years following 9/11, the bureau has placed a greater emphasis on in-house linguistic services.  This is primarily a result of the bureau’s unwillingness to share sensitive information with outside personnel as well as the time-sensitive nature of many translation operations.

Degree Requirements for FBI Linguists

A bachelor’s degree is required for any linguist in the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  A college degree does not have to be in the foreign language, unless the applicant is not a native speaker in the language, in which case it is highly recommended.  If the applicant is a native speaker, it is often helpful to show superior academic achievement in English or other majors that emphasize English language skills.

The applicant should possess outstanding proficiency in the areas of writing, reading, aural comprehension and speaking of the foreign language as well as English.   Most linguists first join the Bureau as a contract linguist, in which case, various areas may be de-emphasized.

Application and Examination Process

Applicants must first provide an application package that includes a resume, college transcripts and documents related to military veteran, law enforcement or federal employee status.  Applicants will also provide a self-assessment of language skills which will help determine viability.

If the application is approved, the applicant must take three exams in foreign language proficiency.

  • Listening and reading—This exam will be in the form of a multiple choice test, in which the candidate will be provided written samples or hear conversations.  Some portions may require the applicant to synopsize the audio or written sample.
  • Translation—This test will provide written samples in a foreign language that must be translated into English.  The informational content must be preserved and points are added for stylistic expression.  The second portion follows a similar format but provides English samples that must be translated.
  • Speaking—The applicant must conduct a structured interview with native speakers over a telephone.

FBI Linguist Designations

Depending on the results in various examinations, the applicant may be designated as

  1. Contract Linguist—This is an introductory position that requires successful completion of all three exams.
  2. Contract Language Monitor—This job requires successful completion of the listening test, English composition, and speaking tests.
  3. Contract Tester—This job requires only passage of the English and foreign language speaking test.
  4. Special Agent Linguist—This requires success in all linguistic exams as well as the Special Agent qualifications and exams.

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