Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | April 28, 2017

Why Not Go Global with your Career Plans?

Why Not Go Global with your Career Plans?

by J. Douglas Guy

Despite recent efforts to ignore this reality, the world outside the United States plays an increasingly large and influential role in international politics and international business. U.S. dominance on the world stage has shrunk in recent years while American economic debt and dependence on outside nations has grown. Yet the outside world largely admires America and what it stands for. The new administration may be more hostile toward immigrants and foreign visitors but that will not stop them from wanting to come to the U.S. or from visiting all the states and cities that make this nation great.

The business community has long since gone global. U.S. companies have a huge presence in the business world far beyond its borders, but huge numbers of foreign companies have invested in sales outlets and manufacturing in the United States and these companies need staff that speak the home country’s language as well as English. Bilingual workers have historically earned substantially more than colleagues doing exactly the same job. A 2014 article in The Economist* projects that over the course of their careers Spanish speaking employees will earn $51,000 more, French speakers $77,000 more and German speakers $128,000 more than their monolingual coworkers.

Few people are going to get hired to speak a particular language other than at call centers and as language teachers, but employees with strong foreign language skills in addition to their professional skill sets become eminently more valuable to their employers. They can host visitors from abroad, talk to them and negotiate in their own language. When someone needs to go on a business trip abroad, the coworker with the language skills is going to be the one to travel and get the travel expense account. Language skills offer huge advantages and flexibility to the arc of one’s career and may lay the groundwork for transitions to other types of work later on.

There is ample evidence that the demand for competent language speakers is in a huge growth phase on the Massachusetts job market, and not only in business. A March 13, 2017 article in the Boston Globe, “When only bilingual works need apply,” addresses the urgent need of Massachusetts employers to find and keep workers who can speak the language of their customers as the United States gets more and more multicultural and multilingual. This article mentions that:

“Even as the Trump administration seeks to limit immigration, employers are increasingly looking to woo immigrants as consumers – and employees. The number of online job postings targeting bilingual workers more than doubled nationwide between 2010 and 2015, rising 162 percent, according to a new report by New American Economy, a coalition of mayors and business leaders that supports immigration reform. The languages seeing the biggest rise in demand: Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic.”

In Massachusetts specifically, the greatest rise in demand was for speakers of Spanish, Mandarin and German. Demand for employees who speak these languages rose by 160% between 2010 and 2015 with the strongest need in the areas of teaching, health care, and insurance jobs for Chinese and Spanish speakers, while pharmaceutical, high tech and electronics companies drove the demand for German.

The way language skills can be used on the job can sometimes be surprising. A criminal justice student born in Spain already had Spanish under his belt, then decided to learn Russian in college. He ended up on the police force in Lynn, working on drug interdiction with Latin and Russian gangs. Students in University of Rhode Island’s international engineering program earn a B.S. in engineering as well as a B.A. in their chosen foreign language. The program mandates a year abroad, one semester doing course work at a technical university, the other working in a paid internship in a target language country. Of the 120 students who complete the German program annually, 99% have a job waiting for them at graduation, often with the company they interned with in Germany.

As reported by NBC News, The New American Economy study showed that bilingual workers were in demand for both low and high-skilled positions such as financial managers, editors, and industrial engineers. “In today’s global economy, businesses require employees who can serve customers in a variety of languages,’ John Feinblatt, chairman of New American Economy, said in a prepared statement. “This research highlights the growing need to attract and promote a multilingual workforce among both foreign- and U.S.-born talent,” he added. And it is not just the language ability that is important, but also and perhaps primarily the “cultural intelligence” that learning a new language brings that employers are interested in.

So how do you build professional level proficiency that will get you the job? Keep taking language courses at Salem State and grow your active skills as much as you can. Learn about the culture and the people who speak that language, and seek out opportunities to meet native speakers and use your language skills. Read online media, watch target language TV, go to YouTube and watch music videos or last night’s newscast from a target language source. Practice the language at any of numerous and free online resources and podcasts. And if at all possible, get yourself abroad. Sign up for a study abroad semester or summer program, get an immersion experience that will make all the difference in your proficiency, and when you get there, don’t hang out with the Americans! Make friends with the natives, avoid speaking English, and aim to think, joke and even dream in the language. It really happens if you work at it! And once you’ve acquired those skills, they will never leave you.


The Economist, March 11, 2014: “Johnson—Language study: What is a foreign language worth?”

Boston Globe, March 13, 2017, by Katie Johnston: “When only bilingual workers need apply.”

NBC News, March 13, 2017, by Carmen Cusido, “Want the job? Be able to say so in more than one language.”

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