Does it Pay to be Bilingual?
In today's increasingly interconnected and globalised world, language has become a powerful tool that transcends borders and connects people from diverse cultures. As our societies become more culturally diverse, the demand for individuals with multilingual abilities continues to grow exponentially. It is no secret that bilingualism offers numerous cognitive, social, and personal benefits, but what about its impact on professional success and financial rewards?
Welcome to our insightful exploration into bilingualism and its potential influence on earning potential. In this blog, we explore the question: “Do people with bilingual skills get paid more?" Whether you are a bilingual individual curious about the hidden advantages of your language proficiency or an employer seeking to understand the value of a multilingual workforce, this exploration will provide valuable insights and shed light on the relationship between language diversity and economic compensation.
Do bilinguals get paid more?
Bilingual professionals with language credentials can earn 5-20% more than their monolingual counterparts, depending on sector, geography and job role. Moreover, countries like Switzerland leverage their multilingual heritage, attributing 10% of their GDP to linguistic diversity. Conversely, nations with poor language skills, like Britain, experience economic losses equivalent to 3.5% of their GDP annually due to a lack of bilingual language skills in the workplace.
In the coming years, the demand for bilingual employees is expected to rise, leading to better pay for bilingual employees. Certain government sectors also offer incentives for foreign language proficiency.
Bilingual pay in business and medicine
The impact of bilingualism on earnings becomes evident when we examine industries like medicine and business. Research indicates that bilingual professionals with language credentials can command salaries that are 5-20% higher than their monolingual counterparts. The demand for multilingual employees in these sectors underscores the value that language diversity brings to the table. Fluent communication with diverse patient populations and international business partners offers a clear competitive edge, leading to better financial compensation for those with bilingual language skills.
It pays to be bilingual in business and medicine!
Multilingual heritage in business
Nationwide language policies can have profound effects on a country's economic landscape. Take Switzerland, for example, a country that attributes a staggering 10% of its GDP to its multilingual heritage. With four national languages - German, French, Italian, and Romansh, Switzerland has leveraged its linguistic diversity to bolster economic growth and international trade.
In contrast, countries that lag behind in promoting language skills might experience significant economic losses. Britain, for instance, estimates a loss equivalent to 3.5% of its GDP annually due to the relatively poor language skills of its population. This highlights the importance of nurturing language education and fostering a multilingual society for sustained economic progress.
Language proficiency can pay even outside of the workplace
Bilingualism's positive impact on earnings goes beyond just the workplace. Studies from various regions indicate that bilingual individuals enjoy higher incomes compared to their monolingual peers, even when their second language isn't directly related to their job responsibilities.
For instance, in Florida, workers who are proficient in both Spanish and English earn a substantial US$7,000 more annually than those who speak only English. Similarly, a Canadian study revealed that bilingual men earn 3.6% and bilingual women earn 6.6% more than their English-only speaking counterparts, irrespective of their language use in their professional roles. This suggests that the cognitive and communicative benefits of bilingualism spill over into various aspects of life, rewarding individuals with higher financial returns.
Bilingual pay incentives in government and defence sectors
The value of foreign language proficiency extends to certain sectors within the US federal government, such as homeland security, law enforcement, defence, and intelligence fields. Some federal agencies offer enhanced foreign language pay to employees who are certified as fluent in specific languages and hold positions where language proficiency is deemed critical.
For instance, the Defense Department (DoD)'s "foreign language proficiency pay" program provides up to $500 per pay period for eligible DoD civilian employees in intelligence roles and up to 5% of salary for civilians assigned to non-intelligence duties requiring language proficiency. These incentives underscore the importance of multilingual skills in national security and diplomacy, further bolstering the case for higher compensation for bilingual employees.
Various US government agencies offer supllementary pay to bilingual employees.
The future for bilingual earning potential
Looking ahead, the demand for bilingual employees is projected to soar in the coming decade. Employers foresee a surge in the need for Spanish-speaking skills among job candidates in the US, as indicated by 70% of employers in a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growing demand opens unprecedented opportunities for bilingual individuals to thrive in diverse professional spheres and potentially command even higher salaries.
Top tip: Read our blog exploring global bilingualism. Did you know that almost half of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual?
What are the benefits of being bilingual in the workplace?
From enhanced cognitive abilities to improved communication skills, the impact of speaking multiple languages reaches far beyond linguistic proficiency. Let's explore some compelling evidence that showcases the benefits bilingual individuals bring to the workplace:
1. Enhanced executive function and decision-making skills
Studies reveal that bilingual individuals possess highly valued employment attributes, such as analytical thinking, conceptualising ability, working memory and dexterity. Additionally, bilinguals have been found to make more rational decisions when thinking in a non-primary language.
2. Improved cognitive abilities and brain structure
Bilinguals enjoy improved attention and intelligence, as well as enhanced verbal and spatial abilities. Neuroscientists have even discovered that the bilingual brain differs structurally from the monolingual brain. The left inferior parietal cortex, heavily involved in language processing, concept formation, and abstract thinking, is denser in bilinguals and increases in density with language proficiency. Moreover, bilingual individuals exhibit a greater volume of both grey and white matter in their brains, contributing to enhanced mental adaptability and learning ability.
The bilingual brain differes structurally to the monolingual brain.
3. Superior social skills, communication and focus
Language proficiency in multiple languages fosters greater attention to detail, improved listening skills and enhanced cross-cultural awareness. Bilingual individuals often exhibit heightened hearing abilities, enabling them to distinguish between different language sounds, tones, and pitches. These auditory skills combine with better social skills, making bilinguals attentive listeners and effective communicators. Furthermore, bilinguals show increased inhibition of irrelevant information, enabling them to focus on essential aspects of a conversation or task.
4. Heightened sensory processing and creativity
Bilingualism's positive influence on sensory processing goes together with improved memory and better visual-spatial skills. The need to switch between languages fosters improved cognitive flexibility, leading to greater creativity and adaptability in problem-solving.
5. Increased learning ability beyond languages
The benefits of being bilingual extend beyond language acquisition. Bilingual individuals tend to exhibit improved learning ability in general, applying their enhanced cognitive and attentional skills across various domains, benefiting their overall professional growth and success.
As the evidence clearly indicates, being bilingual provides a plethora of invaluable advantages in the workplace. From boosting executive function and decision-making to enhancing cognitive abilities and brain structure, bilingual individuals stand out as valuable assets to any organisation.
Why is a bilingual workforce important for employers?
- Enhanced innovation and problem-solving: A recent survey conducted by the Economist revealed that two-thirds of international company executives believe that having a multicultural workforce fosters innovation within their organizations. Observations of multi-language work teams demonstrate their propensity to find innovative solutions for practical problems.
- Economic and cognitive advantages: Bilingualism benefits individuals from various backgrounds, by offering economic, cognitive and social advantages. Academic studies show that bilingual individuals enjoy increased earnings relative to their monolingual peers, better job opportunities and labour mobility, and a higher likelihood of promotion to higher levels within their organizations. This highlights the importance of retention of bilingual employees.
- Recognising and rewarding language skills: A majority of employers acknowledge the value of multilingual employees using their foreign language skills on the job, with a surveyed 71.8% noting that these individuals should be paid a higher wage. The recognition and incentivisation of language proficiency contribute to employee satisfaction and motivation.
- Staying competitive in a globalised world: In the face of globalization and the implementation of free trade agreements like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union (EU) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, bilingualism becomes a critical asset for companies aiming to stay ahead of worldwide competition and capitalise on unique value propositions.
- Essential for success in business: Head-hunters and recruiters across various regions, including Europe, Latin America, Asia, and North America, agree that bilingualism is becoming increasingly crucial for success in the contemporary business landscape. Nearly nine out of ten head-hunters in Europe, Latin America, and Asia emphasise the importance of bilingualism, and two-thirds of North American recruiters predict its growing significance over the next decade.
Fostering a bilingual workforce offers tangible advantages for employers in terms of innovation, problem-solving capabilities, and overall competitiveness in the global market. By recognising and rewarding language skills, businesses can attract top talent, promote diversity, and capitalise on the unique strengths that bilingual employees bring to their organizations.
Bilingual careers: jobs for bilinguals
For bilingual professionals, the job market offers a wealth of exciting opportunities that leverage their language skills and cultural expertise. Here are the top 10 careers that actively seek bilingual talent:
- Translator/Interpreter: Bilingual individuals excel in roles where precise language translation and interpretation are essential, bridging communication gaps in international settings and facilitating cross-cultural understanding.
- Customer Support Representative: In customer-centric industries, bilingualism proves invaluable for providing exceptional service to diverse clientele, resolving issues efficiently, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
- Marketing Executive: Bilingual marketers possess the unique ability to reach global audiences and tailor campaigns to different cultures, contributing to successful international marketing strategies.
- Hospitality Manager: In the hospitality industry, bilingual managers facilitate smooth interactions with guests from around the world, enhancing guest experiences and fostering a welcoming environment.
- Human Resources (HR) Specialist: Bilingual HR professionals play a vital role in supporting a diverse workforce, enabling effective communication, and promoting a harmonious and inclusive work environment.
- Teacher: Bilingual educators are in high demand, as they can engage with students from different language backgrounds and promote language learning in multilingual classrooms.
- Healthcare Professional: Bilingual healthcare professionals improve patient care by communicating effectively with diverse patient populations and ensuring accurate medical information exchange.
- Flight Attendant: Airlines often seek bilingual flight attendants to cater to the needs of passengers from various countries, creating a comfortable and pleasant travel experience.
- International Recruiter: In a global job market, bilingual recruiters can effectively source and connect with talented candidates from different linguistic backgrounds, fostering diversity within organizations.
- Copywriter: Bilingual copywriters craft compelling content for international audiences, tailoring messages to resonate with different cultures and markets.
These careers offer exciting prospects for bilingual professionals seeking to leverage their language abilities, cultural awareness and interpersonal skills to make a significant impact in the global job market.
Bilingual job search strategies
Bilingual job search strategies can be valuable for individuals who speak more than one language fluently. Being bilingual opens a range of opportunities across various industries and professions. Here are some effective strategies to enhance your bilingual job search:
Boost your bilingual job search strategies!
- Identify your language strengths: Determine which languages you are proficient in and research industries or job roles that specifically require those language skills. Some industries may place a premium on specific languages, such as translation, interpretation, customer support, international business, or diplomacy.
- Tailor your resume (CV) and cover letter: Highlight your language skills in your resume (CV) and cover letter. Clearly state the languages you speak and your proficiency level for each one. Mention any relevant experience, such as past translation work or international experiences, that demonstrate your language abilities.
- Use bilingual job search websites: Utilise specialised job search platforms that focus on bilingual opportunities. Websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, or specific language job boards can help you find relevant job postings that require your language skills.
- Network within bilingual communities: Connect with individuals who share your language skills and are already working in your desired field. Attend networking events, join online forums, and participate in social media groups that cater to bilingual professionals. Building connections can lead to potential job referrals or insights into job openings.
- Research multinational companies: Many multinational companies seek employees who can communicate effectively with clients, customers, or partners from different linguistic backgrounds. Research companies that operate in regions where your language skills are in demand.
- Leverage language-related certifications: If possible, obtain certifications that validate your language proficiency, such as TOEFL, DELE, or DALF. These certifications can boost your credibility and demonstrate your commitment to language excellence.
- Offer language services to local businesses: If you're looking for work experience or a way to demonstrate your language abilities, consider offering your services to local businesses that deal with international clients or operate in multilingual environments. This could be an internship or a freelance opportunity that allows you to gain valuable experience and references.
- Attend career fairs and language-specific events: Participate in career fairs and events that focus on bilingual opportunities. These events provide a chance to meet potential employers in person and make a lasting impression.
- Be flexible with location: Bilingual job opportunities might be concentrated in specific regions or countries. Consider being open to relocating if it aligns with your career goals and language expertise. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened a new world of opportunities for remote working. Widen your targeted geographies to broaden your language prospects!
- Showcase cultural understanding: Highlight your cross-cultural communication skills and understanding of cultural nuances associated with the languages you speak. Demonstrating sensitivity to cultural differences can be a significant asset in certain roles.
Remember to be persistent, patient, and proactive during your bilingual job search. Having strong language skills can be a unique selling point, and with the right approach, you can find exciting career opportunities that align with your talents and interests.
How to maintain and enhance bilingual fluency in the workplace
Maintaining and enhancing bilingual fluency in the workplace is essential to stay competitive and relevant in today's global job market. Here are some effective strategies to help you maintain and improve your bilingual skills:
- Consistent practice: Regularly engage with both languages, even if you're not using them at work every day. Practice speaking, reading, writing, and listening in both languages to keep your skills sharp.
- Language exchange partners: Find language exchange partners or conversation groups where you can practice speaking with native speakers. This can help you improve your fluency.
- Watch and listen to media: Consume media in both languages, such as movies, TV shows, podcasts, and news broadcasts. This exposure to authentic language usage will help you stay up to date with latest idioms, slang, and expressions.
- Read in both languages: Read books, articles, and online content in both languages. Choose topics related to your industry or interests to expand your vocabulary in relevant areas.
- Language apps and tools: Use language learning apps to reinforce your language skills. Additionally, online dictionaries and translation tools can be valuable resources when encountering unfamiliar words. Why not read graded news in Chinese, Spanish and French with The Chairman’s Bao and Newsdle?
- Stay engaged with the culture: Immerse yourself in the cultures associated with the languages you speak. Attend cultural events, join online forums, and follow social media accounts.
- Write regularly: Practice writing in both languages through journaling, blogging, or corresponding with native speakers. Writing helps solidify grammar and vocabulary knowledge.
- Professional development: Consider taking language-specific courses or workshops that focus on business communication, industry-specific terminology, or cultural etiquette in a business context.
- Use bilingual resources at work: If possible, utilise your language skills at work, even in small ways. This could include assisting with translations, communicating with international clients, or contributing to multilingual documents.
- Travel and immersion: If you have the opportunity, travel to countries where the languages are spoken. Immersing yourself in the language and culture will provide a significant boost to your fluency and understanding.
- Stay curious and open-minded: Be willing to learn from mistakes and embrace new challenges. Language learning is a journey that requires persistence and adaptability.
- Mentor and teach others: Share your language expertise by mentoring others who are learning the languages you speak. Teaching can reinforce your own knowledge and provide a sense of fulfilment.
- Lifelong learning: Lifelong learning refers to the continuous process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and competencies throughout one's life, beyond formal education.
Remember that language fluency is a skill that requires continuous effort and practice. Consistency is key, so try to incorporate these strategies into your daily routine and make language learning an enjoyable part of your life.
Retention of bilingual staff in the workplace
Employers recognise the valuable contributions of bilingual employees, paying them higher wages and employing them in diverse functions and sectors beyond conventional roles. To retain bilingual talent effectively, companies can implement the following strategies:
- Invest in language training: Improve access to foreign language training, allowing employees to enhance their language proficiency and communication skills on the job.
- Incentivise language use: Provide supplementary pay for staff regularly using foreign or sign languages at work, encouraging them to maintain and utilise their language skills.
- Promote language balance: Foster a workplace environment that balances the use of foreign and English languages. This approach ensures smooth communication without neglecting language diversity.
- Standardise language proficiency testing: Implement standardised language proficiency examinations, emphasising oral skills over written skills.
- Offer career progression: Create higher paid positions to provide growth opportunities for bilingual clerical staff with less formal education, preventing them from seeking employment elsewhere.
- Bilingual Pay Pilot (BPP) program: Companies may consider implementing a Bilingual Pay Pilot program, similar to the one in Texas, which offers an additional 2.5% pay increase for bilingual and multilingual employees.
- Embrace diversity and inclusion: Companies should have a clear mission and value statement that embraces international growth and a commitment to diversity and inclusion at all organizational levels.
- Strategic language targeting: Develop a plan for strategically targeting markets and languages for growth, focusing on regions where bilingualism provides a competitive edge.
Remote working is now an option for bilingual employees!
By incorporating these retention strategies, organizations can foster an inclusive and language-diverse workplace that not only retains bilingual staff but also enhances overall productivity and performance. Embracing and supporting language diversity can lead to a more dynamic and innovative work environment, attracting top talent and strengthening a company's position in the global market.
With the demand for bilingual employees projected to rise in the coming decade, the future holds promising opportunities for those with bilingual language proficiency. As the world continues to embrace linguistic diversity, bilingual individuals stand to seize unique opportunities and reap the financial rewards of their multilingual skills.
So, whether you are a bilingual individual curious about the hidden advantages of your language proficiency or an employer seeking to understand the value of a multilingual workforce, embracing and nurturing language diversity will undoubtedly lead to greater success in today's dynamic and interconnected world.
Sean McGibney speaking to students at Beths Grammar School about his experience of learning Chinese, living in China and founding Newsdle and The Chairman’s Bao.
Sean studied Chinese and Spanish at University of Leeds and founded The Chairman’s Bao alongside Tom Reid in his final year of study in 2015. Current Managing Director of The Chairman’s Bao, he has overseen the company’s growth from university bedroom concept to an international force in the EdTech industry with over 200,000 individual users and over 400 global partner institutions. Sean also launched Newsdle alongside Tom Reid and Oliver Leach in 2021, for students and teachers of Spanish and French. In his spare time, Sean is still a keen language learner and runner. He also sits on the Board of charity Leeds Irish Health and Homes in the UK.
- Center for the Study of Human Resources, The University of Texas at Austin
- Global Seal of Biliteracy
- World Economic Forum
- DYLAN Project
- Science Daily
- Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers
- ELAN Program (European and Latin American Business Services and Innovation Network)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Kennesaw State University
- Rapport International