Monday, October 31, 2011

International Business Times: Foreign-language skills provide sharp edge in the job market

Want some more motivation for your language learning? How about cash money? From the International Business Times:

Job seekers with bilingual skills could look forward to a profusion of opportunities in the coming year, according to various reports and company hiring plans.
A profusion? If that's not so much hyperbole, that sounds pretty good, given that jobs aren't exactly easy to come by at the moment.
[T]he need for transactional knowledge of languages has become very important in both private and government sectors. … Strangely however, … while proficiency in languages—especially in Chinese and Spanish—seems to be among the most critical skills likely to be sought by recruiters over the next decade, very few workers had plans to invest in language instruction.
Speaking just from my own personal experience, foreign-language abilities are a huge asset in a job search; from my first college internship to my current job, language skills were a crucial part of my sell—and often a prerequisite to even get a position.

To look at specific languages, the article flags Chinese and Spanish. Chinese is in strong demand just about everywhere the world over, and the article above focuses on the U.S., so Spanish being a selling point is hardly a surprise. The article is aimed at English speakers, so they're assuming you already speak English, but for non-English speakers of course English remains the language most likely to be useful in a job search. In Japan, hiring non-Japanese speakers used to be a necessary evil, but—at least in the legal industry—it's getting harder and harder to find positions that don't require Japanese; indeed, I hear that the Japanese firm I used to work at is now putting more emphasis on Japanese language skills for it's non-Japanese attorneys and indeed refusing to promote those without the requisite skills.

And I could of course go on and on right down the list of languages representing the largest percentages of world GDP. Suffice it to say that if you don't already know a second language and aren't learning one, you're going to remain at a disadvantage.


  1. Interesting. I am currently traveling through Canada, and speaking to a lot of teachers here, it seems that if you know French here, you have a much higher chance for a job here. 

    I guess it depends on the industry that you are in and who your clients are. But it is safe to say that in a lot if industries, knowing more than just one language seems to help a lot. It would definitely pay to research before choosing a language for business, as it really is dependent on location. But in saying that, having to learn for a job would be a big motivator. 

  2. Very true; which language will help you most in bagging a job very much depends on your situation. For instance, Portuguese-speaking, U.S.-licensed lawyers seem to be in short supply, so I often get hunted down by recruiters looking for that combo. And French being a big plus in Canada (teaching or otherwise) isn't too surprising, just as Spanish being useful in the U.S. wouldn't be surprising.

    So doing a little research on what can benefit you the most before choosing a language is definitely a wise move!

  3. Thanks for sharing this article, Vincent!

    This article points specifically at careers in interpretation and translation which requires a very high level of foreign language proficiency and American schools and universities currently do a poor job of raising their students to a level where they are able to perform these jobs adequately.

    There are, of course, classes and other external opportunities you can pursue if you want to get into these careers, but I wouldn't rely on a Spanish major curriculum at a public university to get you there.  Because of this, I think that heritage learners of Spanish and Chinese will be the ones ideally poised to take over these jobs in the future.

    It'll be interesting to see how things turn around in five or ten years when the children of much-maligned illegal immigrants are suddenly in high demand for their language and cultural skills.

    If you're looking for a career outside of translation and interpretation though, unless you're a teacher you may have to go global to find someone who can really appreciate and properly utilize your foreign language abilities (as I am currently discovering in my own job hunt).

     Thanks again.


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