by Yael Karov
¡Hola! ¿Me contratará?
Many people aspire to learn a second language in their lifetime, but is adding this skill to your resume really necessary for your career?
For many professionals, the answer is sí. While becoming proficient or fluent in a second language is rarely easy, it could be a distinguishing ticket that helps you board the train to career success.
Even the federal government has issues finding multilingual talent, as they demonstrated during the Senate’s panel on the foreign language deficit in 2012.
Even if your professional ambitions aren’t set on the US government, picking up a second language can make you a more attractive job candidate overall. Plenty of industries have positions for multilingual workers. But the choice isn’t for everyone.
Consider these few points before grabbing a foreign language dictionary and enrolling in class at your local language school.
Prepare yourself for a steep learning curve
It takes a lot of time and immersion in a language to begin to pick it up — up to 1,765 hours to learn fluent English for a clerical office job, according to some reports.
You don’t want to embarrass yourself by using a false cognate in front of a hiring manager, so be realistic about the time and effort it will take to become sufficient or fluent in your chosen language.
If double majoring in a language doesn’t fit into your course schedule, don’t fret — a minor can be a great way to keep your skills sharp while still offering the option to study abroad.
Be willing to invest money now to make more later
You could make big bucks with second language skills. Students studying Japanese at Johns Hopkins University were offered jobs starting at $100,000 a year in international affairs, banking and finance.
In companies where knowledge of a second language is critical for success, some have a policy that dictates paying bilingual workers more. Still, advanced knowledge is key; many of these companies require candidates to interview in the second language.
Achieving that fluency level can be a pricey investment. At the international language school Berlitz, a 10-week course for two can run $1,500. At the Boston Language Institute, you can expect to pay around $400 for a small group class and $1,000 for intensive classes.
But the price tag can be worth it if you’re entering an industry with high demand.
Research your industry’s requirements
Will the hours spent conjugating verbs and translating sentences really be suitable for your career? Positions in marketing, communications, sales, translation or international relations can obviously benefit from multilingual knowledge. But research your industry’s requirements and salaries to see if there’s real value to this knowledge.
Hit up recruiters on LinkedIn or visit job fairs to quiz them on the importance of a second language for their open positions. Even if it isn’t a hard-and-fast requirement, learning a second language can never hurt, as you expand your cultural horizons, learn a new perspective or enhance your skills.
Consider career options abroad
Experts say the US will be the only wealthy country that will see its population grow in the next three decades, which will lead to a shortage of talent in highly populated countries like Germany, Japan and Sweden.
At least 83 countries and territories have fertility rates lower than those necessary to replace the existing population. That means multilingual speakers will be in high demand if you’re willing to relocate internationally for work. It’s not impossible — nearly five million non-military Americans already live abroad.
Delve into niche industries at home
In the US, the need for Spanish speakers is growing rapidly. WPP is an advertising agency that has an arm dedicated to serving Hispanic markets with their campaigns. In 2012, media giant NBC launched NBC Latino, aimed at Hispanic news and readers, and Fox started MundoFox, a Spanish broadcast television network.
For bilingual communications, marketing or sales professionals, opportunity is ripe for expanded career opportunities right here at home.
Second language learners are in high demand in many industries, both at home and abroad. But remember, learning a second language takes a large amount of time and dedication. Before you jump in, determine if the choice is really right for your career.
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