THE BLOG

Why English Is No Longer Enough

07/17/2012 06:33 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2012

As the number of Hispanics in the U.S. climbs -- now having surpassed the 50 million mark -- the economy is undergoing seismic shifts. Gone are the days when English-only companies could employ an English-only workforce and reach an English-only consumer base. In today's economy, savvy companies are going bilingual to attract a broader workforce, reach more consumers, and achieve greater growth potential.

You may not realize it, but the United States is fast becoming a bilingual nation. Today, more than 37 million people speak Spanish at home. Pause and think about that number for a second. For 37 million people in the U.S., speaking Spanish is more comfortable than speaking English. The growth of the Hispanic population has translated into a powerful consumer base with buying power estimated to exceed $1.3 trillion by 2013. The implications for U.S. industries, employees and consumers -- and for you -- are far-reaching.

Industries are adapting to the growing Spanish-speaking population in the U.S., some by choice, others by necessity. In health care, bilingual doctors and nurses are better equipped to attend to their patients. In education, bilingual teachers and administrators can connect with Hispanic parents and students. From law to leisure, from real-estate to retail, industries are finding that to reach the broadest consumer base possible, Spanish is a requirement. And yet, many of these industries are struggling to find the bilingual expertise needed to make these connections. Going bilingual is fast-becoming a competitive advantage and almost no industry is going unchanged.

For individuals, this means that bilingualism is now a ticket to more job opportunities. A recent Indeed.com keyword search found more than 31,000 job opportunities actively recruiting individuals bilingual in Spanish. These bilingual workers are paid, on average, 5 percent to 20 percent more per hour. When asked for foreign language preference in a recent poll, recruiters in North America overwhelmingly chose Spanish (79 percent), greatly surpassing French (43 percent) and Mandarin Chinese (30 percent). The U.S. government has multiple initiatives to promote bilingualism in military, civil, and foreign service, including foreign language proficiency bonuses. For those with expertise in translation, the prospects are becoming ever more rosy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interpreter and translator employment is set to grow around 42 percent in the next 10 years. These figures show just how great a competitive edge foreign language knowledge bestows on employees.

This trend is also visible online. In the U.S., the Hispanic population is growing 400 percent faster than the general U.S. population online, meaning that its engagement and influence will only expand over time. Hispanic users are early adopters of new technologies and are the most active population on social media channels. On our Spanish language learning website, SpanishDict.com, we have witnessed a snapshot of that explosive growth in our user base -- more than 600 percent since 2007 -- seeking Spanish language learning and reference material. We are also seeing more and more advertisers that are asking us about opportunities to reach the portion of our audience that is Hispanic.

Outside of the world of business, online and off, we are witnessing a general Latinization of our culture. Pitbull's hits on the radio, Sofia Vergara's latest appearance in Modern Family and Will Ferrell's most recent film are just a few instances of this trend. Whether it's through Spanish words and phrases leaking into our daily speak, the music we listen to, the actors we watch, or the gradual absorption of Latino cultures and traditions, the influence of Spanish is pervasive.

As a society, becoming a bilingual nation is a big advantage. After Chinese, Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the world. Across the world, there are between 450 and 500 million Spanish speakers. As American companies increasingly look to emerging markets abroad for growth opportunities, it doesn't hurt that Latin America is the second largest emerging market, with a combined GDP of $3.2 trillion.

For those looking to ride the tidal wave of change that our economy is experiencing, now is the time to learn Spanish. Spanish may be the key to unlock that new job opportunity, promotion or business venture. And learning a new language is not just good for business; it is good for your health. A multitude of studies have shown that bilingualism boasts many benefits. Bilingual people have an earlier acquisition of literacy, higher test scores, and are more resistant to the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Becoming bilingual is also becoming feasible for more people with the advent of online learning websites. Among them is SpanishDict.com, a site that now reaches more than 6 million unique visitors, providing free online Spanish translation and learning. Though learning a language is challenging, it is an investment in the future. Why not get ahead of the trend and start learning Spanish today?

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