GUEST POST BY ADI MCNALLY
With the advent of the internet, social media, jet planes, and satellites within the last century, planet earth has become a significantly smaller place. In an instant, someone in Hong Kong can communicate with someone in New York.
The reality created by globalization shows an increased need to communicate between countries, cultures, and civilizations. For any monolingual professional, this amalgamation of societies is frightening. Knowing U.S. English alone doesn’t quite make it anymore.
However, there is no need to remain linguistically limited and there are significant benefits to becoming bilingual. Learning a new language is a fantastic gateway to becoming both a more conscientious global citizen and a more sophisticated professional.
Here are four ways that learning a new language helps you in your career.
1 | Expanding Your Career Opportunities
English is only the third most common language spoken in the world. There are around 379 million people who speak English, 932 million less people than those who now speak some dialect of Chinese. (Source) Economically speaking, the United States remains the top country in the world but countries such as China, Japan, and Germany are rising up on the planetary leaderboard. (Source)
Being able to speak one of the other top languages in the world gives you qualifications for a greater variety of careers. If job titles like “International Sales Manager,” “Foreign Correspondent,” or “Medical Translator” sound like they would be up your alley, learning a foreign language is either essential or incredibly useful.
2 | Making New Connections
Anyone who works in career services or who has spent time looking for a job knows the adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” There are so many people in the world who you cannot connect with if English is your only language.
Knowing another language broadens your reach both to prospective clients and to prospective employers. Connecting with non-English speakers requires reaching out and bridging that language gap, and people who speak English as a second language will likely appreciate if you can speak their native language.
Learning a language also requires at least some degree of cultural competency, another requirement for bridging cultural borders. No modern language exists within a void; all spoken languages are constantly growing and evolving. In April 2019 alone, 640 new words were added to the English dictionary, including new slang terms such as “snowflake,” “stan,” and “buzzy.” (Source)
Just like English, other languages create new slang and terminology to describe new experiences as they occur in culture. Learning the language involves learning about those experiences. This is why the best language learning programs involve an immersive study experience or a traveling abroad experience. Studies show that immersion-based language learning actually changes the brain’s makeup. (Source)
3 | Increasing Your Salary
Many people argue over whether learning a language is worth the financial investment. After all, it takes years of practice and study to develop language skills that can be useful in a professional environment. Albert Saiz’s study in 2002 reports that those who speak a foreign language will only see a 2% increase in their income. (Source)
However, his study also found that different languages have different return rates. 40 years of work will give bilingual people $51,000 for Spanish, $77,000 for French, and $128,000 for German. (Source) How well you know your second language also works into whether you will receive better pay.
As with any economic investment, the typical rule of thumb is to learn the language that has the least supply and the most demand. In the United States for example, Spanish is in high demand but there is also a high supply of native bilingual English/Spanish speakers. Thus, learning less popular languages like German and Chinese can be worth more in your career.
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4 | Enhancing Your Appeal to Global Companies
If you are interested in working for a tech giant like Apple, Google, Amazon, or Facebook, keep in mind that these are all international companies that have offices across the globe. My father Michael McNally worked 13 years as a Director of Software Engineering for Google, a position that required travel to offices in India, the U.K and many other countries. He is an avid language enthusiast who has studied Portuguese, French, and J.R.R Tolkien’s fantastical elven languages.
Tech giants are not the only good options for careers, of course, and in fact other international companies like Hilton, Salesforce, and Workday are listed among the top places to work globally. (Source) Global companies often require their employees to travel, especially if the position involves managing members of a team. Showing that you can communicate with team members across the globe is a huge plus on a resume.
Some international companies requiring foreign language proficiency even include interview questions in another language. Being able to converse and sell your abilities in more than one language increases both the likelihood that you will be hired and increases the positions you will be likely to be interviewed for.
Additional Sources | Saiz, Albert. “Working Paper No. 02-16: The Returns to Speaking a Second Language”. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Harvard University. October 2002.
AUTHOR BIO: ADI MCNALLY
Adi is a college student in the upper-left corner of the United States who is studying English, journalism, editing, publishing and French. For fun, they like drawing, writing fantasy novels, reading everything within a 100-mile radius, and trying to pick up new languages.