It’s no secret that speaking a second language is a good thing. Maria Konnikova, writing for The New Yorker, claims that “the words that we have at our disposal affect what we see — and the more words there are, the better our perception. When we learn to speak a different language, we learn to see a bigger world.”
This bigger world includes increased opportunities for employment. In a competitive market, every advantage counts, and bilingual candidates can offer huge value to companies in a variety of industries. Top industries for bilingual candidates include:
- Social work
- Law enforcement
- Human resources
- Customer service
- Information technology
- and sales and marketing.
PracticeLink found that medical professionals with bilingual skills have a major advantage over the competition when it comes to finding work. “With non-English speaking residents on the rise nationwide, the demand for bilingual or multilingual physicians who can keep pace is also rising,” writes Marcia Layton Turner. “The Census Bureau reports that the nation is rapidly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.”
Not only are you more likely to snag a job if you speak more than one language, but you’re more likely to earn a higher salary, too. RosettaStone, a language-learning software company, reported that “people who speak at least one foreign language have an average annual household income that’s $10,000 higher than the household income of those who only speak English. And about 17 percent of those who speak at least one foreign language earn more than $100,000 a year.”
Flaunt Your Skills … But Only If You’re Truly Fluent
Marketing yourself as a bilingual job seeker is pretty straightforward. On your resume, mention your language skills in your summary and highlight any relevant formal education or work history. Prospective employers like details and data, so make sure to include the number of years you’ve been speaking your second language, the way you acquired it (through study, from growing up in a multi-language household, or living abroad, etc.), and any other information that will make you stand out.
Keep in mind that “bilingual” means fluent in two languages. The conversational Spanish you picked up on your vacation won’t cut it. True fluency involves mastery of grammar and pronunciation. If your language skills are an essential function of the job, be prepared to prove your proficiency.
Career development consultant Graciela Kenig states, “Without a doubt, being bilingual increases employability.” According to Kenig, Spanish has become the unofficial second language of the United States, and finding candidates who speak the language fluently has become a priority for many companies.
However, Spanish isn’t the only in-demand language. A global economy means opportunities for bilingual employees in many different languages. The 2005 Korn/Ferry International Executive Recruiter Index reported that Spanish was the most sought-after language (79 percent), but French (43 percent) and Mandarin Chinese (30 percent) were also popular.
It’s Never Too Late
Children are incredibly flexible when it comes to learning new languages, and kids raised in a multilingual household have a huge advantage over adults when it comes to bilingual fluency. But that doesn’t mean you should give up if you’ve only ever spoken English. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Regardless of your age, it’s never too late to add a skill that will boost your employment prospects and possibly your paycheck.”
If you studied a second language in school, you may just be a little rusty. Try finding a foreign language club through Meetup.com to practice your conversation skills with native speakers. If you’re looking to learn a new language, check with your local community college for reasonably priced classes. You could also try RosettaStone software (or the free app Duolingo) to learn at your own pace.