A degree in criminal justice from an Associate’s to a Master’s can be your gateway into law enforcement. In addition to your degree is the asset of being bilingual. Foreign-language skills often come in handy on the job and they might be the key to getting hired. Particularly in metropolitan areas that have a significant percentage of Hispanic residents. For examples, the population in Los Angeles is 45% Hispanic; New York is 24%; Miami is 43%; San Antonio is 56%, and El Paso is 81%. In order to communicate with the community as a police officer, it requires fluency in Spanish. However, city, county, and state police departments are not the only place where a second language will benefit your career.

In order to do their jobs effectively and safely, sworn and civilian law enforcement personnel must be able to communicate with the people they serve—including the growing number of immigrant communities that do not speak English well.

“Recognizing the need to improve communication and interaction with limited English proficient individuals is among the next steps in advancing community policing. By developing and implementing a language access plan, law enforcement agencies will be able to strengthen their policecommunity relations, increase trust, and be better positioned to address public safety problems.” U.S. Department of Justice 2005

Foreign-language skills come in handy across law enforcement, from metropolitan and state forces to federal agencies, where, unlike at the state and local level, fluency alone can get you a job in homeland security, drug enforcement, and other areas.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI relies on foreign language capabilities to quickly and accurately inform operations and its executives. The success of the FBI’s mission is dependent upon high-quality language services and the ability to translate and analyze information in a timely manner. Language Services Section (LSS) is responsible for the organization’s entire Foreign Language Program. LSS supports the FBI’s mission by providing quality language services to the FBI, law enforcement communities, and the Intelligence Community (IC) as a whole. The FBI currently employs almost 1,400 linguists who provide critical services at 114 offices in the United States and abroad.

Drug Enforcement Agency

The DEA has stringent hiring requirements. To become a DEA agent, an applicant must be a US citizen, in excellent physical shape, have excellent hearing and vision, and be between the ages of 21 and 36. Applicants must have the minimum of a bachelor’s degree or specific law enforcement experience. The agency prefers individuals with drug-related law enforcement experience and special skills such as piloting, accounting, engineering, or fluency in a foreign language.

Much of the DEA’s success is increasingly dependent on the rapid and thorough understanding of languages other than English. The DEA requires highly-skilled analytic linguists (linguists) to perform language-related services, including analysis, monitoring, transcription, translation, and interpretation (Office of the Inspector General January 2018).

Fluency may result from formal training, cultural background or job-related requirements which require the ability to use foreign languages. Principal language skills include knowledge of Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, dialects of Nigerian languages, Chinese, Mandarin or Japanese.

Central Intelligence Agency

The ability to speak, read, and translate foreign languages, in addition to understanding cultural differences, is vital to the mission of the CIA. Intelligence priorities can shift globally, causing different countries and languages to gain importance rapidly. The CIA needs employees with foreign language skills to handle both current national security requirements and potentially new missions.

Their Foreign Language Incentive Program addresses the demand for agents with fluency in foreign languages. Language Proficiency Hiring Bonuses are paid to new employees who meet the minimum proficiency requirements from a qualifying list of languages, work in a language-designated occupation and sign a continued service agreement with the CIA. The amount of the bonus is based on criteria set by the CIA. New employees can qualify for this hiring bonus in more than one language.  New employees may qualify for this hiring bonus in more than one language, with $5,000 awarded per language.


Crime occurs in all languages, and an ability to communicate with people who speak other languages is an asset to police officers and federal agents. Speaking a foreign language well can open the doors to more advanced and higher paying jobs in law enforcement. With the exception of some jobs in federal crime agencies, Spanish is the most useful language. Arabic is one of the most useful languages for a job in homeland security, particularly because of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Additionally, Chinese remains a language of incredible interest for homeland security, partially because there are so many Chinese students and business people who live and work in America. Learning to speak Mandarin is useful to the government because the intelligence community needs help deciphering business and personal habits of Chinese officials.

Additional Resources

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