Why Learning A New Language Is Always A Good Career Move

06/08/2017 12:28 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2017
Ryan McMunn

In a global economy, simply telling your potential employer that you have what it takes to get the job done doesn’t cut it anymore. Hiring managers at top firms weigh in many factors – some of which might be out of your control. In trying to land that dream job, you may find yourself outmaneuvered by a well-connected candidate or, in many cases, simply pitted against more accomplished peers.

In spite of tough competition, there’s a way for you to stand out: master a foreign language.

In a recent report by the New American Economy, the number of U.S. companies looking for bilingual workers has more than doubled in the last five years. The demand for foreign language proficiency is now at 630,000, a huge jump from 240,000 open positions for candidates with bilingual abilities in 2010. This trend will only continue despite the recent misguided shifts towards nationalism in the US and abroad.

In the past, the majority of listings involved hospitality and customer-service industries. Much has changed over time. Today, the fastest growing categories for bilingual positions now includes financial managers, industrial engineers and editors. We currently have presidents of investment firms, tech giants, and manufacturing companies taking our language courses. They see the value in gaining at least a basic level of understanding in a foreign language. The benefits of language training however are not only for high level executives. Over the years, it has become more evident that bilingual employees have an edge, no matter where they are in the skills-spectrum.

You appeal to international companies.

As companies expand and build businesses across oceans, foreign language fluency gives job candidates the opportunity to showcase themselves as global employees. If it comes down to you and another candidate for an overseas position, your odds of snagging the job are higher (assuming you are equal competitors in terms of other credentials), if you speak the local language.

Also, having this coveted skill will broaden your job prospects. Not only might it lead you to various companies looking for a bilingual speaker, it can also make you hirable across departments once you have your foot in the door.

In 2004, I was a young American who explored career options in China. Without a doubt, my dedication to learning Mandarin Chinese was critical to my success in doing business in the country. Had it not been for one fateful day while doing an audit of a factory in Qingdao when I discovered, completely by accident, that the factory had not only one set of fake books but two, I might never have ventured down that road. Having made this discovery, I knew that if I wanted to succeed in China, I needed to speak the language.

Only then having an entry-level job at a company in Shanghai, I worked hard to acquire the proper language skills, and to understand the social and cultural differences between myself and the people I worked with. I wouldn’t have climbed the corporate ladder if I hadn’t gone through the rigors and challenges of learning Mandarin.

Having experienced the advantage of being a bilingual worker first-hand, I founded BRIC Language Systems in 2010. We wanted to offer language and cultural training using methodologies beyond the four walls of the classroom. One of our goals at BRIC is for our graduates to be marketable candidates who can easily advance in the workplace.

You’re the one to bridge the gap.

Studies show that, because of language or cultural misunderstandings, Americans lose almost $2 billion each year.

Linguistic and cultural misunderstandings are not given the importance that they should. Most companies use an outside interpreter. It is through that interpreter that impressions are made, relationships are developed, and negotiations are concluded. Prior to learning Mandarin, I had personally done business with people whom I had the completely wrong impression of, and it cost us. This impression was based on the communication having to go through a 3rd party interpreter. The tone and choice of words made by the interpreter may not have been the words my counterpart would have chosen. This influenced my opinion of the factory owner in a negative way. After having learned Mandarin, I realized that this factory owner was a solid businessman and a very good person.

Whether you are part of a small team or a division of hundreds, if you speak the language your employer can count on you to communicate with potential and existing clients. If your company wants to reach a wider customer base, you can take charge as an interpreter and help nurture business relationships. Even if clients are able to converse in English, you are sure to build better rapport if you can talk to them comfortably in their first language – leading to more sales or better service as a result.

Speaking to someone in their native language increases the level of confidence between the parties. With your skill, you can interpret and analyze complex reports, answer client’s questions on the spot and secure their trust in doing business with you.

You can directly (or indirectly) boost your salary.

Studies point to an average increase in pay of 4% and up to 15% for bilingual and multilingual employees. In my experience, it was far more than that. For higher-level positions, the premium of foreign language expertise could be higher. Although economists have been unsuccessful in calculating the exact monetary value of this sought-after skill, there are a few other ways to see its benefits.

Learning a new language can make you a more intuitive problem solver. More than understanding grammatical rules, you will also be forced to identify how words are applied contextually. Beyond searching for analytical solutions, you are able to practice reaching more intuitive ones. Fluency in another language also gives you the advantage of taking a new approach to a problem – one that might not easily be obvious to your colleagues (or even your employer!).

More importantly, you become a more viable candidate for a managerial or a higher executive position in the company. With your skill, you can lead and grow the business whichever side of the world you may be working from.

So if you’re trying to figure out your next career move, learn a new language first. Soon, you’ll find opportunities come knocking at your door.

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