The Best Money You Can Spend On Your Career

The Financial Diet has partnered with Rosetta Stone to talk about language, learning, and how to make more out of your professional life (without going into crazy grad school debt).

As a lot of you probably know, I didn’t graduate from college. I didn’t have a traditional path of internships, or post-grad networking, or an alumni network to help me in the search. After a few years at community college, I continued my studies in France (because it was, for four-year university, about the price of community college for an American), and then dropped out prematurely when I started writing full-time. There have been a lot of benefits to this path: I have almost no debt, I’ve been able to earn money while studying, and been able to follow career opportunities as they came to me. But I also realize that my path — both in school, and immediately following it — was in many ways dictated by a singular aspect of my skill set: I am bilingual.

I started learning French fairly young, around the end of elementary school, doubled up each year with as many French-language classes as I could take all the way through my college years in America, and supplemented my studies with frequent calls to my Francophone grandmother, who was always eager to help me learn and keep me motivated. At home almost every evening, I’d pop in the Rosetta Stone CD-Rom I had checked out from my school library and practice the lessons I had the hardest time with (grammar always killed me). And the all-encompassing, almost romantic way I was learning felt more meaningful to me than anything I did in school.  I’d always been a terrible, lazy student, uninterested in half the subjects I was required to take — if I could master at least one very-tangible skill, I’d always be employable.

And it turns out that this decision to become fluent in French came in deeply-handy when I was looking at schools to transfer to from community college, and quickly realizing that all of my top choices would put me deeply in debt. I could work — and go to school! — in Paris, live on very little money, and get the degree I wanted for a fraction of a fraction of the cost Stateside. The fact that this path was open to me was uniquely because of my bilingual status, and the fact that I was able to supplement my transition into writing full-time by tutoring freelance in French and English was yet another privilege provided by my language skills. In short, being bilingual allowed me to shape my young life and follow the career opportunities as they came to me, and continue to open doors even as my work life becomes more and more established.

Recently — as in, starting with some seriousness about three months ago — I started giving Spanish a serious go as well, and perhaps because of my incessant tweeting on the subject, Rosetta Stone has partnered up with TFD to talk about the art (and professional imperative) of language-learning. In addition to my bi-weekly sessions with a tutor and constant listening-to-Spanish-media training, I’ve added the Rosetta Stone app to the mix, and to great result. (I use it on my phone about once a day, usually while on the subway or lying in bed first thing in the morning. And it’s a subscription service, which is flexible and allows me to subscribe to something a little more productive than TV shows I binge watch and a monthly box of makeup samples.)

I’m someone who believes heavily that the best way to learn a language is through constant, ambient exposure — nothing replaces the act of forcing yourself to speak it, and to get over the embarrassment in doing so — but eventually one needs to build out the more technical structure of the language. It’s not enough to just get by: you must add to your arsenal of verbs, of complex conjugations, of little-used nouns: apps like the newly-relaunched Rosetta Stone are perfect to flesh out your knowledge in the language. Aside from the convenience and ambient presence of app learning (integrating language-learning into the quiet moments of your life, like a commute or just before bed, makes it feel less like a chore and more like a personal habit), there were a few things I found about the new Rosetta Stone that are key in my experience to learning effectively:

  • Lessons are not just divided by category (shopping, traveling, etc), but also by type of learning (grammar, nouns, etc), which allows you to fill in just the gaps you need without having to rehash stuff you’re already comfortable with.

  • The subscription model is less expensive than buying the entire program (like you previously had to), with less commitment!
  • Nearly everything you learn — not just certain words — are said out loud if you have the volume on, which means that you’re getting to hear basically everything for your pronunciation and listening comprehension. Rosetta Stone also listens to you using TruAccent, which checks your speech a 100 times a second to make sure your pronunciation is on par with the native pronunciation and helps you correct it, allowing you to speak more authentically.
  • Unlike a lot of other apps I’ve used, the progression of learning is much closer to actual immersion than a class-like setting, where it’s harder to develop quickly. You don’t do advanced, complicated verb forms before getting through crucial basics, like ordering food or asking questions.
  • There are live studio sessions led by native speaking language tutors (available for in-product purchase)—Francophone grandmother not required
  • The design is also just really pretty and easy-to-navigate which, let’s be honest, is always great.

I mean this sincerely when I say it: No matter how long it takes you to learn the language you’ve chosen, there is almost no dollar-value investment you can make in your professional (and personal!) life than learning a second (or third!) language. The doors that open to you when you are fluent in more than one language are endless: you can teach, you can live and work in other countries, you can be an asset to companies that straddle both, you can work in translation, you can pursue degrees in other countries, you can interact with twice the clients or colleagues. To do nearly any job in more than one language — even if the job itself has nothing to inherently do with language — is to automatically add another layer to it which is greater than the sum of its parts.

You become a connector, a facilitator, and someone who can understand the unique needs of two totally-disparate markets and consumers. As a fairly-savvy media entrepreneur, I have often thought of eventually teaching some element of digital media in a French university, where the subject is sorely understaffed. And one of the most pressing reasons I would love to learn Spanish is because the Spanish-language market for nearly any media company in America is huge, and so often goes untapped.

I am someone who is living proof that learning a language can be a cheat code to your education, to your professional path, and to the options afforded to you in life. And while there will always be different strategies and habits that work for you when it comes to learning a language, finding an easy-to-use program that helps build out the foundations of your learning will always be indispensable. As someone who used Rosetta Stone all the way back in middle school when I was first getting a grip of French, and is now using it today on the road to becoming officially trilingual (how chic!), I can’t recommend it to you enough. Download Rosetta Stone (you can try a free demo here!) today, and start speaking the language of your future.

  • Violaine

    Preach!

    Uni in France costs about €160 a year – about $186. Lots of benefits to learning French!

    • HannaDB

      Good to know, they keep raising tuition fee here (went from €520 to €800 in two years), under the motto ‘but it’s also expensive in the US and people still pursue higher degrees, so it is not a big deal, they can get loans!’. Vive la France :).

  • Taylor

    This made me really happy to see! Would you be able to share more about your journey learning Spanish these past few months? I’ve been trying to learn Spanish on and off for years. My boyfriend’s family primarily speaks Spanish, and I want to be able to converse more with them in more depth. However, I get discouraged really easily. It’s so hard to create that habit.

  • Emma

    I have to say, I’m a bit skeptical that speaking multiple languages is necessarily beneficial to your career. I speak English, French and German fluently and it has not yet had a tangible impact on my career.

    I think in very specific circumstances (like wanting to study abroad), it can help. But if you’re wanting a general purpose skill that will help you without having very specific goals, I wouldn’t recommend learning a language. There are other things that don’t take as long (learning a language takes 700 hours or more) and are much more likely to benefit you. For example, public speaking, Excel etc.

    • Wolf

      I’m German, and speaking English was a prerequisite for getting a job in research. Almost all scientific publications are English, and collaborative projects usually are, too.

      • Emma

        That’s true. I think English is really important for speakers of other languages & their careers. So I guess that could be used in reverse by learning another language, moving to a non-English speaking country and then leveraging your English for your career.
        But if you are planning on staying in an English speaking country, I think it’s unlikely that another language will greatly benefit your career.

        • HannaDB

          I would consider what Chelsea was able to do (not forking out thousands of dollars on higher education) because of her extra language skills was a pretty good academic/professional move. I have the impression that getting a BA or MA degree in an English speaking country is ridiculously expensive (UK, US, NZ, Australia), so the whole bilingual business seems pretty lucrative to me. Or you could be extra smart about it, get into an Anglophone program in Scandinavia and get paid by one of their governments to study, even if you’re not a citizen (that’s what a NZ friend of mine did, although in the meantime the Swedish government caught on to the fact they were being taken advantage of and restricted it to EU citizens).

          • Magical Unicorn

            Well it depends on where you want to work and what type of career you’re angling for. If you’re a American looking to work in consulting/accounting/finance in the US, you don’t need another language. I mean sure you can do it, it’s nice, but otherwise? You’re better off learning data analytics and blockchain tbh.
            When I was growing up everyone was telling me how awesome it was that I spoke so many languages and how it must make it really easy to get a job, etc, because employers want that.., but in reality it makes absolutely no difference. People might find it curious/cool, but it’s hardly ever a requirement or a real plus.

    • HannaDB

      Being multilingual alone isn’t going to get you very far, but I can confirm that is it a very useful set of skills on a professional level. I got my first job because I speak a very specific combination of languages necessary to do that job (Dutch, English, French and Mandarin Chinese). All my other jobs, including my current one, require me to be fluent in Dutch, French and English as well (that’s the Belgian federal government for you…).

      • Sara

        This exactly: unless you speak a highly underserved language in a specific industry (Arabic, Russia, and Mandarin for government jobs in the U.S. come to mind), I doubt multilingualism alone is going to be sufficient. That said, it comes in handy for a variety of different jobs once you’re employed. Mind you, I say this wistfully, as I speak four languages and have yet to have employers jump at the chance to hire me as a result. However, I am also primarily speaking to a U.S. job market – English as a lingua franca has made it virtually obligatory for non-English speakers to learn it as an additional language in order to participate in many aspects of globalized life. In that sense, native English speakers have a great advantage if they decide to live in a non-Anglophone country. For example, I live in Rome and the ease with which a native English speaker can find a job teaching English here is pretty astounding.

    • Magical Unicorn

      I agree with you Emma. I speak 4 European languages and for employers it isn’t that interesting because most people from those countries speak English (in addition to their native language). It’s different if you speak, as Sara mentions below, Mandarin, Russian, or Arabic…
      It might be useful if you’re in France or Switzerland and they want someone who speaks English and German, but in the UK or the US? Meh…

  • Great article, Chelsea, thank you for introducing me to this new app! I consider myself almost billingual as I think in English many times (my mother tongue is Portuguese). I was wondering if you believe the app helps you improve your writing skills because I really like to communicate in English and I want to give my writing skills a go, do you believe the app, with their different organization in grammar categories, may help me?

    Also, as a 3rd language, I believe Spanish really is the future!

    • AnonimousLady

      pensei que era das poucas portuguesas a seguir o tfd afinal não! 😀

      • Não, eu estou cá e a adorar este site 😀

        • Descobri a coisa de 3 meses e adoro, ajudou-me mt com as minhas finanças lol 🙂

          • Já digo há mais tempo e é dos meus blogs preferidos 😀

  • AnonimousLady

    I do believe learning languages is as important as breathing, the capability of communicating with others and the flexibility that it gives to talk to someone from another country is so important not to mention that helps our brains to perform better, my mother tongue is Portuguese, i speak advanced english, a bit a french i understand spanish and started to learn german out of curiosity, it’s so interesting and challenging not to mention that helps me at my job A LOT! love this article <3

  • Girafe

    Merci Chelsea for the article. I live in the only officially bilingual province in Canada (New-Brunswick), and here, being bilingual is a tremendous asset to your career. I am a marketing and communications entrepreneur able to serve clients not only in the language of their choice, but to produce content for them in both French and English. And yes – the French digital media world is largely underserved… that’s where I come in 🙂 Spanish is on my list to learn 🙂

  • Robert Treuhause

    Do you know what being bilingual fully means?