FBI Linguist Careers

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In the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigations has switched its primary focus from criminal investigation to counter terrorism and domestic intelligence.  This has led to the FBI ramping up some of the support personnel for these divisions, and has included an increase in translation and interpretation jobs.  The FBI currently employs almost 1,400 linguists who provide critical services at 114 offices in the United States and abroad.

When the FBI first announced that it was hiring linguists following 9/11, it received almost 40,000 applications.  Currently it receives about 1,500 applications from college graduates, Americans who have lived for long durations abroad and naturalized citizens who grew up in foreign countries.  Despite this enormous interest among foreign language speakers who wish to serve their country, the FBI hires relatively few of these applicants primarily because of the rigorous screening process.  The requirements for joining the Federal Bureau of Investigations are high enough to limit hiring, but the added proficiencies in English and a foreign language preclude most linguists from obtaining employment.

FBI Linguist Job Description

FBI Linguists analyzed and translated millions of pages of foreign materials as well as providing over 22,000 hours of vocal translation.  These documents and audio translation services were critical in interviewing witnesses, victims and suspects; they also provided valuable intelligence about criminal and terrorist operations that could have potentially damaged national security or taken the lives of Americans.

Linguists should possess the following competencies

  • Read and comprehend formal and stylized text in a foreign language
  • Understand ant interpret at least one or more dialects of a foreign language
  • Possess superior English skills in listening, reading, writing and speaking
  • Basic or higher computer operation skills
  • Produce translations of written or audio samples in a foreign language as it is produced and in a timely manner
  • Conduct interviews or interrogations in English and a foreign language

These linguists are primarily concentrated in the following languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Farsi
  • Korean
  • Punjabi
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Urdu
  • Vietnamese

FBI Linguist Salary and Job Benefits

FBI Linguists are well compensated with salaries that range from $33,000 to $78,000 per year, but many of the professionals who provide linguistics services are not full time employees but rather contractors.  These contractors are often hired at an hourly wage which can range up to $38 an hour, according to USAtoday.com.

It should be noted that many FBI Linguists draw immense satisfaction from their jobs.  The opportunity to serve their country and help the federal government successfully conduct operations that ensure national and public safety is often a benefit that outweighs the financial rewards.

Click here for more information on how to become an FBI linguist.

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