Last year, I was working with two top-notch sales executives in Peru who were looking for new jobs.
The first candidate was in his late 40s and had a good resume. However, he could not speak English. After an intense job search, he did find a job but it paid much less than he was expecting.
The second candidate was about the same age and had the same professional experience. However, he was proficient in both English and his native Spanish. He also found a job–but one that paid 30% more than the first candidate.
The lesson here is pretty clear. In today’s global job market, being able to speak more than one language is critically important. English, Spanish and Mandarin in particular have become the dominant languages of business. We need to be able to speak at least two of them.
This isn’t just my perspective. Browse any source of job ads and you will see instantly that the best opportunities and the ones that pay the most require the ability to speak more than one language. English may be the dominant language of business today, but it’s certainly an asset to be able to speak Chinese, Spanish, French, Japanese, Arabic or English. Being able to speak a second language is one of the most important business skills you can possess.
Why? Business today has few borders. Customers are located all over the world. We must be able to not only communicate with them, but also conduct research, study manuals and news publications, and keep up with industry-specific literature from around the world about workplace, marketplace and technology trends.
It is not necessary to be functionally bilingual. But it is necessary to be able to communicate and comprehend at some basic level.
If you need to acquire a second language, where do you start? Start taking classes as soon as possible. Hone your listening skills by watching films or television in another language. Consider travelling to another country so that you can practice your new language skills out in the field. Even travelling as a tourist can help us acquire a new language and understand different cultures.
I can tell you from experience that, particularly at the executive level, multiple language proficiency is a skill that is more and more in demand. For executives, it is a factor that determines whether an individual can rise to the top levels of an organization, or remain ensconced in the lower levels. As well, learning a new language can be a portal through which we can expand our understanding of other cultures.
Being able to understand and relate to other cultures is an extremely important commodity in the business world. Diversity is a fundamental value in commercial endeavors. It allows us to grow and embrace different perspectives on the same issue or challenge. This will help us abandon small-minded discrimination, and embrace a more complete view of the way the world works.
To become all that we can be in our working lives, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to expand our horizons both inside and outside our native countries. The value of speaking more than one language, and using it as a lens through which we can understand other cultures, will far exceed any investment we make to acquire that language.