Can you afford to hold your tongue? Americans often avoid learning a foreign language, simply because many people from other cultures speak English. But in today’s global business environment, being bilingual, or better yet multilingual, broadens your career and international business options and expands your network. Plus, learning a new skill increases your self-worth.
David Bailey is a media clerk at Sequoyah Middle School in Doraville, Georgia. In addition to his job responsibilities, Bailey provides the school with Spanish—English interpretation and translation. This includes parent—teacher conferences and any other bilingual communication among teachers, administrators, students, and parents. “The fact that I am bilingual made a huge difference in whether I was hired. In fact, I think I actually got hired because I am bilingual,” says Bailey, whose school’s Latino student population is more than 60%.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, nearly one in five people, or 47 million U.S. residents, age 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home. That is an increase of 15 million people from 1990, with the number of Spanish speakers increasing by 11 million between 1990 and 2000. That’s fodder for incorporating another language into your life.
When it comes to business basics, speaking more than one language could help you turn contacts into contracts. Joy Peyton, vice president of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., says, “Recently, since 9-11, the issue of being multilingual and proficient in other languages has gained visibility and focus. The emphasis is on defense work and business as well as international diplomacy. It’s also important in areas like commerce, service positions, and also to preserve family and community.”
The federal government is investing in people becoming highly proficient in other languages, particularly Arabic, for federal defense, CIA, and Foreign Service Institute jobs. Many of these positions are handled by contractors and have a starting salary between $70,000 and $100,000 annually, plus bonuses.
Kouassi Kouakou, senior research scientist and ingredient technologist with Campbell Soup Co. world headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, has maximized professionally, in part, because he is multilingual. He speaks French, English, some Spanish, and five African dialects.
“My skill is more multilingual than bilingual. It is important because Campbell’s Soup is a global company dealing with many countries around the world. I am needed at Campbell’s world headquarters, not only because of my academic and industrial background, but also for my multilingual skills, to help out with material coming from overseas. French is the language that requires more of my help,” says Kouakou. He specializes in helping the company communicate with vendors in French-speaking countries and translates materials like product specification and orders from French to English.
If you want to become fluent in another language, Bailey suggests learning the language conversationally. Hang out with people who speak the language to learn its nuances and the culture. If you want to learn in a more formal setting, try Rosetta Stone Software (www.rosettastone.com), which offers instruction on CD-ROM starting at $195. For a school near you, log on