Writing in Psychology Today, professor of psycholinguistics François Grosjean estimates that more than half of the world’s population is bi- or multilingual.
Some language pairings have a wider utility than others of course, but that is still a vast amount of people who are able to communicate in more than one language.
In the UK the figure is somewhat lower, with an EU study finding that just 39% of UK citizens can effectively hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue. In the US it’s closer to 20%.
There are various cultural and historical reasons for this but the overriding one is that it’s often assumed that ‘English is enough’. It’s true that English sometimes serves as a lingua franca in various cultural, business and online areas but the majority of the global population still speaks no English at all.
The benefits of being multilingual
One obvious advantage is that when you’re travelling you don’t have to rely on the old monolingual trick of repeating yourself, slower and more loudly, in the vain hope of making yourself understood. You can forge deeper relationships and better understandings with other people if you can speak their language.
Recent studies have also suggested that the process of learning more than one language can improve certain cognitive abilities – not making the multilingual speaker more intelligent necessarily but improving elements like multi-tasking and even, some suggest, helping to stave off dementia.
Language skills can also be useful in an increasingly interconnected and globalised marketplace. There are some obvious roles, such as translating, interpreting, language teaching and some tour guide positions where speaking the appropriate language is a clear requirement. Certain language pairings could open up far more opportunities however, including moving to and working in a country where you speak an official or predominant language.
Do bilinguists earn more?
There are few hard and fast facts available here to provide a simple proportional ratio when it comes to the question of lifetime or average earnings. Salary.com has, however, reported that positions with bilingual pay differentials averaged anything from 5% to 20% more per hour than comparable jobs without the language requirements. These pay differentials tend only to apply to positions where the language skills are both a requirement and actually used in carrying out the roll. You wouldn’t necessarily expect to earn more than a colleague just because you are multilingual if you’re never actually called upon to use those language skills.
As well as those pay differentials, being multilingual could open up doors that would otherwise remain closed to you. This could be particularly important regarding promotion prospects or access to new roles if you work within a multinational company or industry. It’s also worth noting that a poll carried out by executive recruiters Korn/Ferry International found that 64% of executives spoke more than one language.
Hiring multilingual employees
If you’re an employer there might be some obvious roles for which you specifically require language skills. This could be the case if, for example, you regularly deal with foreign markets – either via business partners or direct to consumers. Having multilingual employees could help with issues of localisation, communication with foreign language-speaking customers or suppliers.
Hiring multi-linguists could prove beneficial even if you don’t need to call upon those specific language skills. Language degrees are often highly regarded by employers as they are generally considered rigorous and demanding.
In a Financial Times article Antonella Sorace, a professor at the University of Edinburgh originally from Italy, advises: “Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better cultural sensitivity, are better at co-operating, negotiating, compromising.”
Some industries have a higher than average requirement for multi-language speakers. These include the tourism sector and, of course, the translation industry. Here at Lingo 24 we’re always on the lookout for talented individuals with good language skills, or ‘Lingoists’ as we like to call them.
Our translators can work from anywhere but we also frequently have full-time posts in project management, technology and other areas, so take a look at our jobs available and check out our Glassdoor page while you’re at it.
*Photo credits: ivosar / Shutterstock.com