I studied languages at university, and I’m now a language teacher. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has said to me, Why bother? Everyone speaks English anyway! This is fundamentally untrue, as only 20% of the world’s population speaks English, with most of those being non-native speakers. More importantly, the shortage of foreign language skills is said to be costing the UK 3.5% of its GDP each year, equivalent to an eye-watering £48 billion ($61 billion).
Why does this matter to you? Well, because being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, can seriously improve your job prospects and your salary. Here’s why you most definitely should bother learning another language:
1. It helps you stand out in the job crowd
Having a good knowledge of another language can spark a potential employer’s interest and help you stand out against other job applicants. In some cases, it can be a real foot in the door, and even if they’re not actively looking for foreign language speakers right now, you can be sure they’ll keep your skills in mind if they’re thinking about expanding overseas. If you’re looking to learn a language to boost your prospects in a particular industry, think about what would be most useful in that line of work. Put some thought into which language will be the most helpful to you, and put a little effort into mastering the basics and learning about the culture. You never know what doors it may open for you.
2. It’s a great basis for a side-hustle
There are essentially two streams of extra work where you can use your language skills. The first is using your language in a direct way, such as teaching or translation. This is a great way to not only practice your language, but also to develop it into a marketable skill. There are some great online teaching platforms which accept all languages, such as iTalki, and along with translation can be done remotely from your own home. Some of these roles may require a qualification, but some don’t, and it’s a really easy way to make some extra money using your unique skills.
The second is where you use your language in an indirect way, which is less useful for a low-effort side-hustle but may actually be more useful in terms of long-term career plans. This might involve helping a company’s employees relocate to a different country in terms of adapting to a new culture, or coaching managers on how to work with companies from overseas in an effective manner. This way takes more work and requires a bit of business acumen and some experience in the corporate world, but pays very highly and is increasingly in demand as companies do business across cultures.
Both of these streams can rake in some serious cash — many of my online teaching colleagues set their rates at no lower than £35 ($45) an hour, and I’ve heard on the grapevine that intercultural consultants can earn up to £1,000 ($1,285) for a one-day corporate training gig.
3. It is instant proof for sought-after skills
Ever looked at a job application and thought, I’m a great candidate for this role, but how do I prove it? Well, being multilingual is a “cheat” way of being able to prove your other skills. For example, communication often comes out on top of the lists of most sought-after skills by employers, and being multilingual is clear proof that you are able to adapt your language, think about what you’re saying, and get your ideas across effectively. If you learned your foreign language while studying or working abroad, this shows you are flexible and adaptable to change. And, obviously, it shows you are willing to learn new things. If you’re struggling to prove your skills, being multilingual is a great way of having a little bonus to put on applications.
4. It helps you develop a strong work ethic
It can take hundreds of hours to learn a language. That sure sounds daunting, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s a walk in the park. I’ve been learning French since I was 7 years old and still feel like I can always improve. But to reach any level of fluency, you need to be disciplined, strategic, and committed. If you struggle to keep to a routine or remain focused on a goal, language-learning is a great way to get into good habits. Putting aside 15 minutes each day to work on your language skills, just as you would for meditating or stretching, makes a huge difference and can help you see results, fast.
5. It is financially worth the effort
It varies depending on the country and the languages spoken, but on average, multilingual individuals earn more than monolinguals, ranging from 2% to 12% higher salaries. This can be even higher in more multilingual countries, like French speakers in Canada or Spanish speakers in the USA. Over a lifetime this little extra can add up to a 6-figure sum, which is certainly not to be sniffed at. As well as the cold hard cash, having demonstrable language skills and cultural awareness means you’ll be front of the queue for perks like overseas work trips. The in-work benefits of being multilingual are really limitless.
Helena is a charity worker and linguaphile based in Cambridge, UK. You can find her at www.hjschofield.co.uk.
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