The following blog is a guest post from Christian Arno, founder of Lingo24.
The most recent report from the Census Bureau revealed that more than 55 million people in America – around a sixth of the population – speak a language other than English at home. English remains the unofficial national language of the United States and to some extent it’s the lingua franca or common language of business worldwide. It’s perfectly possible to get by in many jobs without needing to be multilingual.
With the number of Americans who either speak English as a second language or don’t speak it at all continuing to rise, however, there’s a corresponding demand for workers who can communicate in more than language. Globalization and improvements in communication technology also provide opportunities for the multilingual worker. Many companies do business overseas and technologies such as videoconferencing mean that business partners can meet face to face even when they’re thousands of miles apart.
Jobs requiring language skills
Language skills can be useful in many different fields. They can help in business if you deal with clients or other companies overseas. They may also be handy in parts of the service industry, such as hotels with an international clientele. Being bi- or multilingual is never a bad thing but it can be a prerequisite for certain jobs, such as:
- Translator/Interpreter Employment of interpreters and translators was expected to increase by 42 per cent between 2010 and 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a much higher predicted growth rate than the average figure for all occupations. Interpreters typically work in settings such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms, and conference centers while translators often work from home.The value of your language skills will depend on both the demand for the language(s) you are fluent in and the scarcity of available translators. There is a huge demand for Spanish interpreters, for example, but this is matched by a comparatively high number of Spanish-speaking interpreters. There may be less demand for Chinese-speaking interpreters but, if you are fluent in Chinese, you are likely to face less competition for any available post.Many interpreters and translators work on a part-time or freelance basis. The global nature of the internet and the increasing importance ascribed to online localization has opened up a host of new opportunities for translators.
- Language teacher Bilingual and multilingual graduates can end up teaching foreign languages at American schools and colleges. Another path is to teach English to foreigners and new arrivals in specialist language schools. These can be found throughout the United States but the biggest opportunities tend to be in the big cities. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages can provide more information on the various programs and opportunities available. With English teachers increasingly in demand in many places throughout the world, the more adventurous could even consider teaching English overseas.
- Tour guide As many as 50 million tourists visit the US each year. Many of these visitors do not speak English, and many bilingual and multilingual speakers can find employment at landmarks and tourist attractions. Language skills may not be essential for every position but they will certainly come in handy and give you an edge over monolingual applicants.
Multilingual employees tend to earn more than their monolingual peers over the course of their working lives. But it’s not always as simple as being paid more for doing the same job. Salary.com reported that positions with bilingual pay differentials averaged anything from 5% to 20% more per hour than the position’s base rate. This extra pay will usually only apply to positions where additional languages are actually stipulated as a requirement and subsequently used. In general, a bank teller or salesman who is multilingual will not get paid more than one who is not if they don’t regularly use their language skills in the course of their job.
Being multilingual can, however, open doors to new posts and promotions. A poll carried out by Korn/Ferry International, the world’s largest executive search firm, found that 64% of executives spoke two or more languages.
How to sell your skills
If you have spent time living and working abroad, or have used your language skills in a professional capacity in your home country, make sure you highlight the fact. A traditional resume remains one of the most important weapons in your employment armory but you can also promote your skills online via social media sites and professional networks. Formal qualifications are important but don’t forget that many companies may expect you to take some sort of competency exam. If you’ve not used the relevant languages for a while you may be a little rusty, so make sure you brush up.
In the current economic climate, language skills can open new doors and make an applicant stand out from hundreds of others. Being multilingual might not be a passport to instant success, but it does present opportunities that otherwise might not exist.