Two Tongues are Better Than One

Fluency in a foreign language can translate into a world of professional possibilities.

Japanese at the Kai Conversational School. Now fluent in the language, he returned home and currently works as a copy editor for S Plus Inc., a small graphic design and advertising company in New York City. Harley, who earns approximately $30,000 a year, ensures that any text translated to English from Japanese is grammatically and syntactically correct, and often acts as an English/Japanese liaison officer between the company and its clients, such as Canon, the maker of cameras and other electronic office equipment. “I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m happy I found a job that allows me to use my bilingual ability,” he says.

Harley found just one niche where knowing a second language reaps rewards. But the demand for bilingual skills varies depending on the career you’re exploring, says Donna Sabatino, operations manager at Career Blazers employment agency in New York City. “For instance, in the engineering/technical field, employees who speak Asian languages are in demand, while French and Spanish are the dominant languages in the social services and medical fields.”

Alex Rodriguez, president and CEO of Diversity Consulting Group, a Santa Barbara, California-based executive search firm, says sales is also an area where second language skills are in high demand. “It can break the ice, set the tone and establish a quick rapport.” Rodriguez should know. Prior to working for the Group, he worked as a car salesman. “I was the only one of a group of salesmen who spoke Spanish and we worked on commission. I wound up handling all our Spanish-speaking clients. Needless to say, I was very successful.”

As a program assistant for the World Bank, Josephine Armar works for the Washington, D.C.-based development assistance organization that lends money to impoverished countries across the globe. Working for a special program for the African Agricultural Division, Armar uses French to communicate with most of her clients in Africa.

“At the World Bank, employees are given a premium for being fluent in another language,” says Armar, who earns approximately $44,000 a year. “Applicants have to be screened very carefully just to make sure they aren’t boasting about language skills to obtain the premium,” she says.

So how did she get there? The London native earned a bachelor’s degree in languages at the Polytechnic of Central London University in London and a diploma in translation before completing her master’s degree at George Mason University in Virginia. While pursuing her bachelor’s degree, Armar spent a year abroad- dividing her time among Spain, Paris and the Ivory Coast. Before moving to the U.S. in 1986, she worked as a freelance French and Spanish translator in London.

Armar was still living in London when she first applied for a Spanish/English translator position at the World Bank. She was told there were no openings. Later, while vacationing in the U.S., she applied-in person-for a bilingual Spanish/ English secretarial position. This time she got the job. That was 13 years and a few promotions ago.

Armar’s climb up the ladder isn’t that unusual for someone with her

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