It’s well-documented that learning a foreign language is great for career development:
So it’s clear … if you want to develop good skills for a job, learn a new language.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
What are the actual skills you can expect to develop as a consequence of your language skills?
What are the tangible business benefits of speaking a second language?
And how does this help you in your career development?
Let’s start with perhaps the least obvious benefit of all – your business acumen!
There are certain characteristics shared by successful businessmen and entrepreneurs that really elevate them to the big leagues: creativity, negotiating skills, rationality, and open-mindedness.
As it happens, it’s exactly these skills that are enhanced when you learn a new language.
Language learning increases your creativity, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
You’ll have more creative ideas, campaigns and products, solve problems more quickly and efficiently, and make more rational decisions … all good skills for a job!
Now, who wouldn’t want that?
In short, as a direct consequence of learning a new language, you can expect to be able to survive and perform better in business.
Your most valuable asset in life and work is the language you communicate in with your colleagues and customers – usually your mother tongue.
Makes sense, right? We’ve all seen the consequences of poor communication skills!
As it happens, one of the main benefits of learning a foreign language is the impact on your own language.
Your first language will improve in terms of vocabulary, logic and discourse, meaning you'll become an all-round better communicator.
You’ll be better able to…
So if you’d like to improve your communication skills across the board, or those of your employees, learning a different language may be one of the best career development tools!
Let’s get on to the benefits that come as a direct result of learning a new language.
In 2010, there were an estimated 58,400 jobs in language translation and interpreting, and every year, the US government spends around $225m on language services.
In other words, language services is a huge industry, but also a huge cost for businesses – both in terms of time and money.
Imagine the cost and efficiency savings for an organisation if their employees are able to function in different operational languages.
By removing the need to hire a language translator to translate important documents or an interpreter for meetings, the overall cost of doing business comes down and the speed goes up.
And these costs shouldn’t be underestimated – language translation can be especially problematic if the task at hand is urgent.
Outsourcing the task can cause costly delays, and handling communications in-house is far more efficient.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
When you learn a new language, you widen your social networks.
Being able to communicate in a foreign language will open you up to connections and partnerships that might not otherwise be available to you.
This may be with people who don’t speak English, and with whom communication would otherwise be difficult.
But it can also be with people who do speak English, but the fact you speak their language immediately builds trust and deepens the relationship.
This gives you a huge competitive advantage, as most of your monolingual colleagues miss out on the connections you’re forming in other languages.
As a career development opportunity, who knows where that might lead?
Your network is your net worth.
– Tim Sanders
The world has accepted English as the lingua franca for business.
So why is learning a foreign language advantageous?
In short, to stand out.
Well, only 7% of college students in the US are enrolled in a language course.
But it gets worse: Less than 1% of Americans who studied a foreign language in classroom are proficient in that language.
If you speak a foreign language, this gives you a huge personal advantage tapping into overseas markets.
By being able to communicate in their language, you’ll be much better positioned to do business together. Not only can you communicate in their language, you’ll be more culturally aware.
Put yourself in the shoes of an overseas businesses being approached by companies in the US…
Who would you rather do business with…
Differences in business culture and etiquette overseas are often misunderstood, and many an overseas venture has been scuppered by a failure to appreciate the importance of intercultural relations.
Japanese culture and etiquette, for example, are notoriously tricky for the outsider.
Once you’re working with international partners, maintaining the relationship is just as valuable (if not more so) than building new ones.
So, how are you going to do that? With business as usual?
Just as you probably feel most comfortable speaking in your first language, so your international partners would naturally prefer to do business in their language, without resorting to translation services at every turn.
Even if your partners have resigned themselves to using English as the standard language of business, there is a relationship to maintain nonetheless.
The relationship will have a bigger and brighter future if both sides show an interest in the language and culture of the other.
And during those time when communication difficulties inevitably arise, a familiarity with their business etiquette can often save the day by identifying simple misunderstandings when they arise.
Now, in case you were starting to think fluency in another language is all that matters … think again!
Real trust is generated far more from your behaviour than from the accuracy of your grammar.
By learning a foreign language, you gain an insight into the culture, and as a result, how to behave socially.
This quickly becomes the real substance of your relationship with your overseas partners – from the boardroom, to the airport lounge, to the pub.
In other words, your soft skills improve.
By understanding when you should be shaking hands, offering a drink, or giving a gift, you will be able to bridge the cultural gap and endear yourself to your associates, with all the benefits that will bring to your own career development.
As your familiarity with the language and culture grows, this will quickly extend to unique insight into the overseas markets in which you operate.
Whether you are…
You’ll be in a far better position to consume local media, identify trends, and ultimately make better decisions.
In this way, you will develop a global mindset and think beyond your own borders.
Learning a foreign language prepares you for failure, which will make you more resilient in your work.
Well, language learning isn’t easy. (If it was, wouldn’t we all speak a few languages?)
It’s a character-building process that will increase your hardiness and resilience.
A bias for action and embracing mistakes are characteristics shared by language learners and entrepreneurs alike.
Those who are successful learn from their mistakes, get back on their feet, and try again.
Discovering how to learn a new language will give you the mindset and the attitude necessary to take failure in your stride, and strive for better outcomes in your life and work.
The candidates who end up with job offers also demonstrate determination and resilience, and are able to work hard and thrive in difficult situations … able to cope if they are sent half way across the world to work on a client project.
– Stephen Isherwood, Ernst & Young
Last but not least, if you like the sound of spending part of your career abroad, learning a foreign language is the shortest route!
For starters, if you work for the government or an international company, you’ll be well-placed to apply for foreign postings, or other related career development opportunities, if you speak the local language.
However, there are endless foreign language job opportunities available around the world, if you want to go it alone.
There are already plenty of websites posting top language jobs.
But another potentially rewarding avenue for those looking to take a career break is working for an NGO. All NGOs need people with language skills, and there are plenty of exciting opportunities, from interpreting for visiting officials, to lobbying governments for policy change.
So, as it turns out, your high school Spanish classes weren’t for nothing after all!
Learning a foreign language can impact your career far beyond the ability to communicate with people from other cultures.
The health benefits are numerous, and you’ll be left with better head for business – smarter, more creative, and better equipped to reach your career goals.
If you're looking for the fastest way to learn a language, you might enjoy Language Learning Foundations, which shows you step-by-step the methods I've used to learn eight languages.
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