10 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language for Your Career
Learning a second language is important, but there’s a high chance it’ll become necessary in the coming years. As our world becomes multicultural and our ability to reach foreign lands gets easier, high-in-demand languages like Mandarin, Spanish, and German will be needed skills.
But, it isn’t like learning a new language is easy, and scientists almost unanimously agree. A 2018 study in the journal Cognition found that it’s nearly impossible to reach native-level fluency in a second language after age 10. With that said, do we have to be fluent to communicate?
Absolutely not. In the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 171,146 words currently in use in the English language. However, native English speakers typically know 15,000 to 20,000 words.
To reach career-level fluency, you won’t even need that much. You can speak to most people after learning 1000 words, but it takes 3,000 to 5,000 words to become fluent in a language.
If you want to learn a new language, you have to do it the right way, but why should you bother?
This article will explain why you should learn a foreign language for your career. We’ll also show you the best ways to learn a language, whether you’re just starting out or need a refresher.
What Languages Benefit Your Career the Most?
When you set out to learn a foreign language for your career, you’re probably wondering which languages would benefit you the most. Here are 5 languages that could really help you out.
If you work in tourism, hospitality, or marketing, Spanish is a great choice for you. It’s the second most spoken language in the world and is widely used across Latin America and Europe. Being able to communicate fluently in Spanish opens up many job opportunities abroad and at home.
China is one of the world’s largest economies. Knowing Mandarin Chinese can be very useful for business professionals looking to make connections in the Chinese market. Chinese can also help you expand your international reach by working for multinational corporations.
French is one of the most popular languages among global businesses because it’s spoken by over 220 million people worldwide! Nearly 30 countries use French as the national or official language, including many in Africa. This is positive, as Africa could be the next superpower.
If you have dreams of achieving career success, learning German should be on your list. German is the language of investors, innovators, and academia, and it can even be a gateway to a world-class education. It’s also one of the most widely spoken native languages in Europe.
Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn because of its “alphabet.” However, it’s much easier to learn than Mandarin, yet it helps you better understand it. Japanese helps you access one of the world’s strongest economies and unique cultures.
If none of these languages strike your fancy, there are still plenty of others to learn. Arabic, Portuguese, Hindi, Italian, and Korean are all popular languages that could benefit your career.
How to Become Fluent in Your Chosen Language
Whether you want to become fluent in German, French, or Spanish, there’s a right and wrong way to learn a language. Here’s what you need to do to learn a foreign language for your career.
Learn the Basics
Before you dive into deep grammar and vocabulary, learn the basics of pronunciation, common words and phrases, and how sentences are structured. Once you have a basic understanding of these fundamentals, it will be a lot easier for you to learn more complicated concepts.
Speak from Day One
Don’t wait until you’ve got everything down pat before trying out your new language in a real conversation, because practice makes perfect. Even if all that comes out of your mouth is gibberish at first, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just keep talking until you feel comfortable.
There are tons of apps, websites, and online courses that can help supplement traditional learning methods like textbooks or tutoring sessions, so try to take advantage of them. For example, some software can provide real-time feedback on your pronunciation and diction.
If possible, try out an immersion program or take a trip abroad where your target language is spoken as natively as possible. When you surround yourself with native speakers, you’re forcing yourself to speak in your chosen language. This can really accelerate the learning process.
Break up long study sessions into shorter chunks, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Try studying for 30 minutes at a time with breaks every hour or so if needed. Additionally, focus on what interests you most about the language rather than just memorizing dry lists of vocabulary words.
Listen & Repeat
If you want to learn a foreign language for your career, you should practice your listening skills. By listening and repairing, you’re improving how you pronounce words and how phrases fit in a sentence. Listening can even make you a better presenter, a necessary skill in most careers.
Join Language Exchange Groups/Chats/Classes
Making friends who speak the same target language as yourself is an excellent way to stay motivated when trying to become fluent. Consider joining some Facebook groups or setting up weekly Skype calls where everyone speaks in your target foreign languages for practice.
Read & Write Regularly
Reading materials written in your target language helps build up both vocabulary knowledge as well as grammatical understanding. Try writing short journal entries using newly learned words each day. This process helps cement them into memory much faster than reading alone can!
Use Different Media Types
Foreign movies and television shows help you gain exposure and pick up language subtleties via contextual cues. We recommend not using subtitles, as it encourages your brain to work faster. But if you’re having difficulties, start with subtitles and ease off once you’re ready.
Have Fun With It!
Learning any new skill takes dedication and patience, but it’s also just as important to have fun. Be sure to listen to music sung in different languages, play cultural games, and make new friends while you study. If you associate language learning with fun, you’re more likely to study.
10 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language for Your Career
Once you’ve chosen your language and have a plan for learning it, you may still wonder why it’s important to learn a foreign language specifically for your career. Here are 10 great reasons.
1. Strengthen Your Resume
Adding a foreign language to your resume instantly makes you more marketable in the job market. It shows employers that you’re willing to go the extra mile and invest in yourself to improve your skill sets. After all, everyone knows that learning a language is very difficult.
Knowing a foreign language can also give you the edge in interviews. A 2013 British Chambers of Commerce study found that 60% of companies are limited by language barriers during trade.
This same study also revealed the following:
- Russian and Chinese are the most needed languages
- However, 95% of business owners don’t speak it
- 57% of business owners don’t speak German
- 64% of business owners don’t speak Spanish
- 76% of business owners don’t speak Italian
- French is the most commonly spoken language
If you know Russian, Chinese, German, Spanish, or Italian, there’s a good chance you’ll be called in for an interview. You’re also more likely to be hired over monolingual candidates.
2. Expand Your Options
Learning a new language opens up new opportunities for jobs that may have never been available before. This allows you to take advantage of international positions or promotions within your current company. You may even get the chance to move abroad for a while.
Knowing a second language is a helpful skill for entrepreneurs who want to break into new markets. Depending on their level of fluency, they may be able to translate their own site. Either way, you should absolutely learn a foreign language for your career, wherever it takes you.
3. Increase Your Earning Potential
Having a second language can help increase your salary potential with many companies, but you have to be careful. Some employers will initially ask you to take on foreign language tasks for free. Don’t make this a habit. Instead, ask for bonuses and incentives for your rare skills.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21.6% of people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home. While that’s 1 in 5 adults, that doesn’t mean 1 in 5 people in your industry speak a foreign language. There’s also no guarantee that the language spoken is useful to your employer or industry. As stated, employers are desperately trying to find multilingual candidates.
With the right employer, a foreign language can add 10% to 15% or more to your salary. In the military, bilingual personnel earn an extra $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year minimum.
4. Smarter Advertising Decisions
Being able to communicate in another country allows you to experience culture at a much deeper level than a tourist. This helps you make smarter advertising decisions in these countries. Not only does this save companies money, but it also protects their reputation.
This fact is true, even in America. For example, a Finish McDonald’s ad that featured a close-up of cow’s udders completely repulsed Americans but went off well in Finland. A marketer who’s culturally fluent as well as fluent in another language is an incredible asset to any team.
5. Enhance Communication Skills
Learning another language requires practice in communication skills. Communication is an important skill in the workplace, especially when you’re working on a team. It also helps you express yourself both verbally and written whether it be with colleagues or customers alike!
Effective communication in a foreign language will result in:
- A better response from stakeholders;
- Quick problem-solving;
- Strong decision-making;
- Higher productivity;
- Consistency in workflow;
- Better control;
- Strong business relations and;
- A more professional image
In the end, strong communication skills will help your employers attract more business.
6. Connect With Others
Being able to talk with someone from another country gives us connection points that allow us to build relationships. These often go beyond cultural boundaries, which will undoubtedly come in handy during business dealings. But knowing a new language is especially helpful at home.
The United States is filled with foreign language speakers, but their work options are limited due to language barriers. This is sometimes treated as a personal failing, despite a person’s circumstances (i.e., refugee status). When employers seek to hire foreign language speakers, they’re expanding their talent pool and giving new Americans a leg up.
We should all do what we can to welcome people into our country via the workforce. There’s no downside to being empathetic to our fellow humans, whether abroad or in our own cities.
7. Boost Brain Power
Stepping outside of your comfort zone by learning another language helps keep the mind sharp. Learning a language actually increases the volume and density of gray matter, gray matter, and brain connectivity. Older learners also see cognitive benefits, including a better working memory.
If you don’t want to learn a foreign language for your career due to its difficulty, try to focus on the benefits your brain receives. These secondary benefits will still help you improve your career trajectory. For example, language learning helps you learn other harder concepts much quicker.
There’s also evidence that language learning can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. That’s because it takes a lot of brain power to engage with it. Essentially, you’re constantly flexing your brain!
8. Different Perspective
By understanding other cultures through their languages, it gives us insight into their way of thinking. This makes you more empathetic to that person’s struggles, thoughts, and feelings.
Some words are impossible to translate into English, or they have slightly different meanings once they do. For example, “Wabi-Sabi” (侘寂) means “finding beauty in imperfections.” It’s clear that a translation of this word exists, but you have to be long-winded to describe it.
But Wabi-Sabi is more complicated than its bare-bones definition. The only way to appreciate the true meaning of Wabi-Sabi is to learn Japanese. It’s also the only way to appreciate writers who describe this feeling in literature. A lot of context gets lost when you translate to English.
9. Learn About Yourself
Taking on something scary, like learning another language, forces us out of our comfort zones. Through this difficult period, you may uncover hidden talents or interests you never knew you had before. This kind of “soul-searching” can benefit your personal and professional lives.
Hard experiences or tasks can also build resilience, which is vital in a career setting beyond language learning. Once you tackle one hurdle, you’ll feel more confident to face the next.
10. More Travel Opportunities
In today’s world, having knowledge about other cultures is increasingly important when doing business overseas. If you’re the only person who speaks a specific language, you’ll be the first person they’ll choose for a new travel opportunity. With that said, this may be a negative thing if you prefer to stay home. Discuss with your employer beforehand if you’re required to travel.
While choosing a foreign language speaker makes sense financially, it also benefits a company culturally. Being able to understand and respond to people in their home country shows respect, and respect isn’t easy to earn. In a way, you act as an ambassador when you’re overseas.
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