The Federal Bureau of Investigation needs people with language skills, and who are fluent in one or more foreign languages. The work of linguists is vital to investigations into criminal activity and terrorist threats within the United States, which is the FBI's basic job description. As with other rank-and-file FBI personnel, the annual salary paid to a linguist depends on skill, experience and rank within the organization.
The FBI employs linguists to assist in the investigation of criminal activity, including money laundering, terrorism, bribery, kidnapping, drug trafficking and espionage. A linguist may translate hard-copy and digital text documents, transcribe recorded conversations or render a foreign language into English during an interview or interrogation. Primary foreign language needs for the FBI include Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese.
The FBI and the federal government rate language proficiency on a scale of 0 to 5, across the categories of reading, speaking, listening and writing. At the low end of the scale, a 1 rating means you can handle very basic conversation and understand basic written material. A 4 indicates advanced professional proficiency in speech, meaning you are fluent in the specialized language used by professionals in their occupations, as well as everyday speech in informal settings. A specific job listing published by the Bureau will lay out the proficiency requirements for the language you speak; part of your application will be a Language Proficiency Assessment.
When a new linguist is needed in a specific location, the FBI will often announce a contract position opening. This can be either part- or full-time, and the assignment may be temporary. An applicant must submit a resume -- although no specific educational background will necessarily be required -- and take a language assessment. Applicants must be U.S. citizens. The hourly salary varies. For a recent contract position opening in San Diego, the Bureau offered a range of $27 to $41 per hour, with no benefits.
A contract position can lead to a career as a language analyst, with good pay, job security and all the usual benefits and promotion opportunities available to federal workers. The salary for language analysts and other administrative positions within the FBI relies on the federal government's GS scale, with entry level at the GS-7 level and promotion up to a GS-14. As of 2013, a GS-7 salary ranged from $33,979 and stepped up to $44,176; the GS-14 scale ranged from $84,697 to $110,104.