How Learning a Second Language Can Help Expand Your Career Options

We all remember taking a language in high school. whether it was Spanish, French or something else entirely, you probably thought: “When am I ever going to use this again?” Well, it turns out learning another language can be more useful than you think (because there’s more to French than ordering croissants).

When looking at your career options, knowing a second language can really impact what choices you have and the benefits you might get. Here are some of the ways becoming bilingual – or even multilingual – can positively affect your career plan.

1. There are more career opportunities.

Knowing multiple languages opens doors in the business world. Today’s workforce is one that is globalized, leaving many employers to have some kind of global aspect to them. Even in small, local companies, knowing another language can help set you apart from other candidates. For example, a doctor in Southern California will likely find they need to speak Spanish with some of their patients. It's not always about location either – a bank in New York will likely have European contacts and require someone who can connect with them. In both these cases, a second language is what allows for this job opportunity. 

You have appeal to global companies.

Many corporations today aren’t trapped within the borders of one country. Businesses are constantly trying to expand to new locations and reach new markets. With this expansion comes the need for people who can answer phones or do deals and understand contracts. Having someone on the team who knows the language of the country the business is working in is crucial.

You can freelance.

Learning a second language also gives you the freedom to freelance, and even stop being location-dependent on a job. There are plenty of opportunities out there and they can even relate to your other studies.

For example, many companies need important documents to be translated, whether these be legal contracts or restaurant menus. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to be a travel writer – knowing the language of the country you’re visiting and being able to connect with the locals can really help you write unique stories.

2. You get a new set of transferable skills.

Besides appealing to global-minded companies, learning a second language can increase other skills that are applicable to whatever career you’re interested in. These can include problem-solving, multi-tasking, creativity, and many other professional skills.

You might problem-solve differently.

The ability to engage in creative problem-solving is valued in basically every workplace. Without creativity and innovation, no company would ever grow. While you may think creativity is something you have to be born with, it turns out that learning a second language can actually increase your creative capabilities.

A 2012 study conducted by the University of Mashhad in Iran found that Iranian students who learned English as a foreign language to an advanced level had significantly enhanced their divergent thinking abilities. According to the study, this is because you are exposed to “cultures, customs and beliefs” different from your own when you learn a new language, forcing you to see the world from a new perspective.

Employers are always looking for people who can bring new ideas to the company and will likely be paying special attention to those who have engaged with different cultures through language.

You’ll be better at multi-tasking.

Another skill that is crucial to any modern job is that of multi-tasking. Employers want to hire people who are good at multi-tasking because they want their company to be as productive as it can be. Once again, learning a second language can improve this skill.

According to the same Iranian study, as well as a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University, because bilinguals have two language systems in their brain, they have a heightened awareness to make sure one system doesn’t interfere with the other. Consequently, bilinguals perform better at tasks that require them to switch attention between tasks, ignore distractions and store newly acquired information.

3. You have chances for a higher salary.

Besides helping you get the job you want, learning another language can also significantly improve your salary. In jobs such as sales, marketing or technical support, the ability to speak a second language can add between 10-15 percent to your salary. Not all languages are equal, however. According to The Economist, German is the best language to learn in terms of salary and bonuses, followed by French, Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic.

Learning another language can really benefit your career options, whether through opening doors to new career paths or just giving you a leg up over the competition. Even if you haven’t studied a language since high school, you should still think about taking advantage of these benefits. See if there’s room in your class schedule to take a language course, join a language club on-campus to learn with native speakers, or sign up for a free Duolingo course and study whenever and wherever you want. New doors will open before you know it.