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Guidance counselors, college admissions experts, and teachers continuously urge you to learn a foreign language. They say that knowing more than one language will make you “well-rounded” and is “the polite thing to do.”
That advice is solid, but such platitudes aren’t as valuable and motivating as hard facts. Here are five compelling reasons why learning another language can help your career and finances.
1. Learning a Second Language Can Help You Get Hired or Promoted
Job seekers who speak a second language often get hired more quickly and can climb the corporate ladder faster than their peers who speak only one language. As Transparent Language reports, bilingual job seekers have a better chance of getting employed and make more money than those who speak just one language.
Speaking another language lets prospective employers know several important things about you. It demonstrates curiosity about other people and cultures, as well as the ability to work hard to communicate with them effectively. It shows a flexible perspective and — perhaps most importantly — that you can commit to a demanding, complex, long-term task and finish it.
Plus, you open up your employer’s opportunities to reach new markets and customers because you can communicate with customers in different countries. CNN Money reports that knowing more than one language is one of the hottest skills for job seekers.
Once you get the job, bilingualism also means you get paid more than an employee who has the same set of skills but isn’t bilingual. Reports show the average bilingual employee earns 5% to 20% more per hour than single-language employees in the same job. With the average U.S. income at a little over $40,000, that could be as much as $10,000 a year.
Promotion chances and career opportunities are also significantly higher for people who speak a second language. A foreman or shift supervisor, for example, is better for the whole company if they can communicate with the people they manage. Upper management positions, foreign transfers, and opportunities to run global teams are given most frequently to those who have the linguistic skills to meet the challenges.
2. Speaking a Second Language is Good For Your Brain
Learning another language is good for your brain the way pushups are good for your arms and body. It’s a form of exercise that can maintain and even improve neural pathways well into adulthood and old age. Most research on the topic has yet to discover why this is so, or the precise mechanics behind it. But there are some clear signs that language learning has many positive results:
- Young adults who have studied a second language test better for attention and focus than those who speak only one.
- Bilingual adults with dementia develop their first symptoms about four to five years later than those who do not.
- Bilingual adults recover from stroke twice as effectively as monolingual adults, and language learning has been shown to rebuild some cognitive function more quickly.
- Even just a week of language learning can result in positive neurological impacts up to nine months later.
- Bilingual people develop more flexible and quicker thought. They’re essentially smarter than those who never study a second language.
Mastering a foreign language isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the investment. Being smarter, having better focus, and slowing cognitive aging can have a direct impact on your career and finances. You’ll have better job performance, a stronger understanding of the context of your work, and you’ll impress your superiors more frequently.
3. It Lets You Read Industry Journals Published Outside Your Country
If you want to really get ahead in your career, no matter what industry you work in, reading the journals of your area of expertise is a prerequisite for that success. Industry journals keep you up to date on the most important trends, newest developments, and market positioning of the key technologies, practices, and players in your field. You can’t call yourself an expert without staying ahead of these changes.
Every go-getter in your office and industry will be reading the major industry and trade journals. Doing the same just keeps you on par with your closest competition — unless you’re reading the journals they’re not.
Learning a new language gives you access to industry journals published in that language, which means you’re likely to be the only one in your office to see certain things coming, and among just a handful of people in your trade to do so.
If you’d like to learn a new language but aren’t sure which one, you can use this fact as a way to decide. Research which foreign-language journals in your industry have the best reputation or are the slowest to get translated into English, then learn the language in which most of them are written.
4. It Opens Up More Side Gigs to You
The popular term “side gig” refers to second jobs with more flexibility than working part-time for a second employer. They remain one of the better ways to get a handle on your finances by pumping extra money into your life each week. You could drive for Uber or Postmates or start a dog-walking or house-cleaning service, but if you know a second language, a whole new set of doors open for you. Some examples include:
- Editing translated documents
- Tutoring speakers of one of your languages who wish to learn the other
- Doing live phone translations for medical and legal conversations
- Translating documents and speeches
- Providing online customer service in multiple languages
- Writing closed-captioning in your new language
- Freelance writing in either language
In fact, Benny Lewis, who created the Fluent in 3 Months blog, previously worked as a freelance translator, and he explains how you can do it too here. There are lots of opportunities out there!
All of these gigs pay higher wages for bilingual people than for people who speak only one language. And many of them can be done from home with flexible hours, which is more enjoyable than driving people around in your car.
Even if your primary employer never learns to appreciate, reward, or value your second language skills, you can still make them pay off by exploring opportunities to make extra money on the side.
5. It Makes International Job Transfers Easier
Almost every industry has opportunities for international exchange, short-term assignments, or permanent transfers and they handsomely reward employees willing to make the sacrifices necessary to complete them. An international assignment can lead to a better compensation package and help fast-track your career. For some, the adventure of living overseas is reward enough.
Whatever the case for your company or industry, learning a new language helps you here in three ways. First, it makes you more likely to receive such as assignment. Few employers, choosing between candidates with otherwise similar qualifications, will select somebody who doesn’t speak the native language of an assignment location over somebody who does.
Second, when you arrive in your new country, you’ll be better able to perform your job functions if you speak the local language. It lets you communicate better with your co-workers and vendors and usually puts you in higher regard in the community. Even if you’re still only passable with the language, most cultures give you credit for having the courtesy to try.
Finally, it helps you adapt to life in your new home. Easier communication at the grocery store, with your utility company, and on the street makes the whole process less stressful. You’ll enjoy the trip more and be generally more successful.
According to research by Mercer, you should especially consider this if you work in any of the following industries, in which more than 60% of companies are prioritizing expatriate assignments: insurance, retail, energy, technology, health care, and consumer goods. But opportunities outside these industries also exist, and they’re growing ever more common as the world becomes a smaller place.
There’s one more data-driven fact you should keep in mind when considering learning a new language. Conventional wisdom holds that adults can’t learn languages as quickly or effectively as children. Lifestyle design and effectiveness guru Tim Ferriss dove deep into the research and discovered that “wisdom” is entirely untrue.
According to Ferris’s research, it’s not that children learn languages more easily than adults. Rather, it’s that adults lack the time to practice languages the way children can. That’s why language learning programs optimized for quick learning and retention, which you can use in the course of your normal life, are so valuable. They let you, as an adult, learn as quickly and retain as much as a school-age child.
You have five good reasons to get started today, and no good reasons to put it off. Now’s the best time to start.