¿Habla Español?

Globalization and the growth of the Hispanic market in the U.S. are driving the demand for cultural diversification in the workforce. Those who understand the needs of the work environment and prepare accordingly position themselves to be competitive in the marketplace.

“Learning a foreign language is absolutely another evolutionary step that we don’t have a choice but to take on in order to remain competitive,” explains Jason Chambers, assistant professor with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We’re already seeing that people who speak multiple languages have employment advantages.”

A recent study by TheLadders.com, an online job search service revealed that out of 1,496 executives in the $100,000-plus job market, 61% found that Spanish would be the most useful foreign language at the their jobs. Chinese came in a distant second with 16%; French earned 8%.

“More law firms are marketing to the Spanish-speaking population and pursuing bilingual lawyers,” says 21-year-old Andre Warner, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania who minored in both Hispanic and Latino American studies. This fall, he is pursuing his law degree at Georgetown University and has found that learning a second language is not only a great cultural experience but one that will enhance his career objectives as well. “If I get the opportunity to work with companies with predominately Spanish target segments, I’ll be fine.”

Marlon D. Cousin, managing partner for the Marquin Group, an executive search firm based in Atlanta sees these business shifts as huge opportunities for African American professionals who are prepared to meet them. “It allows employers to look at you on an international level,” Cousin says.

Market changes will also impact how companies address their diversity goals, cautions Chambers. “We’re going to have to compete with those who do have these advantages,” Chambers says. “By hiring a minority who also speaks a second language, companies can meet both their racial diversity and linguistic goals at the same time.”

If you weren’t a language major, it’s never too late to learn. There are a number of executive programs, including those offered at Berlitz (www.berlitz.com), which has more than 500 centers worldwide, and www.Acceleratedspanish.com, an online study program. There are also a variety of books and tapes available at local libraries and bookstores.