Does it pay to be bilingual?

We have all heard that having a good grasp of a foreign language is a great skill to add to your CV. Despite this, the study of modern foreign languages in Anglophone countries is decreasing rapidly. This fact has been highlighted in the media recently by the huge lack of qualified language teachers in the UK. So what exactly are the benefits to being bilingual? And what languages best equip you for a successful job search?

Companies in all sectors who conduct business overseas consider bilingual employees to be a highly valuable commodity. Let’s take America as an example. Two thirds of US business executives have one thing in common; the ability to speak more than one language. Furthermore, a recent keyword search resulted in more than 1000 job postings for bilinguals in the USA alone. Research shows that employers are prepared to pay big money to secure the bilingual workers they need. In the USA, bilingual pay is often between five and 20% more than that of a similar monolingual position. Despite these clear advantages of being bilingual, only 18 per cent of Americans are actually able to speak a second language.

Monolingual job seekers are ignoring numerous advantages of a bilingual CV. Linguistic competence enhances career prospects, travel opportunities and salary potential. A further advantage is the increased potential for career progression, an especially important consideration for those in the administrative field, where job flexibility and evolution can be hard to come by.

So if you’ve been convinced that being bilingual is worthwhile, which language is best to learn? Well that depends on your priorities.

An obvious one to cover is if your interest in language learning is to enhance travel opportunities – simply learn the language of a country where you would like to seek a job!

Another motivation is of course the wish to increase your value as an employee. The more professional contacts you are able to communicate with, the more appealing you are to an employer. The most spoken languages worldwide are Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic, with English, French, Arabic, Spanish and Russian topping the list when considering languages used in an official capacity. As well as considering how widely a language is spoken, it is also useful to research which languages are favoured by different sectors that you might be interested in. Given the current climate, the expat life is becoming increasingly competitive and more than three million Brits currently work abroad, so choosing the right language to develop is essential.

Mastering a more unusual tongue is of course another great way to get ahead and make yourself stand out. Chinese and Arabic for example are used in an official capacity in organisations such as the UN. It should not be forgotten however that these as well as Japanese and Korean are amongst the hardest languages for a native English speaker to learn, so will without doubt require a huge amount of time and dedication.

We should not forget old favourites like French and German. French is the most recognised lingua franca second to English and is used in both NATO and UNESCO, while German is useful for central Europe. It is also worth remembering that it is far easier to gain fluency in a language such as French, German or Spanish than it would be in Chinese, for example. While a basic knowledge of a language is useful when on holiday, a very high level needs to be reached for use professionally.

So all in all, you must decide what it is that you want from a language before you can really decide which one is best to learn. Once you have gained fluency, don’t underestimate your skill. It is usually the position that is considered bilingual – not the employee – so as long as you find yourself a position where you really can use your linguistic skills, then yes, being bilingual really does pay off!

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1 Comment

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