Being bilingual can have serious benefits to your career no matter where you live. The ability to speak with a wider range of customers or contractors can help give you an edge in any professional setting. But how much are bilingual skills worth in Nashville or the overall central Tennessee region? The answer is not as straightforward as you might hope. Here’s a look at what speaking a second language may bring you in terms of a bump in pay.
Although foreign language skills often lead to improved decision-making abilities – they don’t always lead to an outright increase in earnings. One US study estimates language skills deliver a mere 2 percent premium. However, in a fast globalizing economy, these findings seemed contrary to common sense and indeed to many organizations’ experience. But not all languages have the same value. Not all markets are the same, nor have the same expectations. And not all roles benefit from bilingual skills.
A big element of the perceived value of a second language is the need for the language. If a company has need of an employee who is able to communicate in two or more different languages, then it makes sense that the company would be willing to pay more to get that skill. But the supply of talent who speak the language may also play a part.
For example, the MIT economist behind the 2 percent premium figure found that the one language prevalent in some American businesses – Spanish – attracts a less than average premium of only 1.5 percent in added pay. Compare that percentage with German, a less commonly spoken language among the bilingual populations of the United States. German had the highest quoted premium of 3.8 percent. It’s worth noting that German has almost disappeared from the American foreign language curriculum. Why the paradox? Because there are so few German speakers, the few who do exist are in demand and are compensated for their language skills. It’s all about supply and demand at the end of the day.
Is It Worth Learning a Second Language?
So, the question remains, is it worth the effort to learn a second language to increase your value to your company? The answer is an unsatisfactory maybe. If your job, or the job you are looking to win, requires bilingual skills, then the answer is yes. If you have bilingual skills add them to your resume. They bring value as a differentiator amongst a sea of similar candidates in the job market. But should you go out and learn a new language without a direct reason to? Maybe not, particularly not a common bilingual language such as Spanish or even French, as this fails to differentiate you from most of your peers simply because speakers are so common.
That said, learning a second language has plenty of other benefits outside of a raise. Being bilingual has been shown to open social and cultural opportunities, improve problem-solving skills, communication skills, and creative thinking skills, not to mention coming in handy when traveling. So, when we ask how much is speaking a foreign language worth? The answer may be quite a lot – in the right market, at the right time, and spoken by the right people. The real question is, what does it mean to you?<
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