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Bilingualism in the Workforce

Today in the United States, bilingualism enhances your value to an employer more than ever. Some have even argued that being bilingual is on a trajectory to becoming more important to the workforce than technology has been over the last century. An increasing number of students compete for spots in study abroad programs in the hopes of increasing their language proficiency in a language other than English. Double majors and even minors of languages are becoming more and more common. Almost everyone is required to take a second language in middle or high school, and many colleges require that you have taken at least two years of a foreign language in high school. This requirement is even upheld in a number of liberal arts schools where students are required to one or two semesters of a foreign language in college. 

More than 60 million people that live in the United States speak another language other than English at home, whether that be Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, or something else. It’s no secret that there are areas that have a high percentage, if not majority, of speakers of another language besides English. It is well known that Miami has one of the highest concentrations of Spanish speakers, as well as southern California. New Orleans and Louisiana have high concentrations of French speakers. If it is true that so many people speak another language, what effects would greater representation of bilingualism have on the workforce?

For starters, research has shown that employers across all different industries and sectors of the economy have a greater interest in hiring bilingual or multilingual applicants than monolingual applicants. It has also been suggested that bilingual employees make more, on average, than monolingual employees. It’s worth noting that bilingual people are less likely to drop out of high school and are more likely to go to college and therefore land a higher paying job. Being bilingual also challenges your brain and helps you become more creative!

Bilingualism enhances your ability to not only analyze information through two different lingual lenses, communicate information in the language of the client, and communicate with people from across the globe, but it also enables you to be more culturally aware of your clients and employees in different parts of the world. The United States obviously encourages proficiency and fluency in English, but this historical lack of bilingual education in certain areas of the country, especially in impoverished and underfunded areas, creates a rather constricting culture regarding language and puts those who are monolingual at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the world. It is not helpful to be monolingual when the rest of the world is ahead; this is observed perhaps most strikingly when considering how most other countries have signs in their language as well as English for tourists. 

However, in recent years, the push for generating more educational opportunities in support of teaching students another language has become more pronounced. According to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, a third of Utah’s workforce is bilingual, which makes it an attractive location for American companies with international operations, such as Goldman Sachs, who has their second largest office in Salt Lake City. 

In 2015, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China created the 1 Million Strong Initiative, which aimed to increase the number of American students studying Mandarin from around 200,000 to 1 million by 2020. There have also been opportunities implemented throughout the country to help give students the resources they need to earn their Seal of Biliteracy, usually completed during high school. 

Overall, it is important to consider how our increasingly globalized economy and workforce is affected by monolingualism and how bilingualism can enhance these relationships between employees and clients, as well as between corporations. It is also important to consider how we allocate resources in order to establish a basis for a general understanding of bilingualism across the United States, and how our attitudes about foreign languages can enhance meaningful relationships in an internationally-dependent economy, as well as fostering stronger relationships with those at home who speak another language. Essentially, the only downside to being bilingual is that you will have trouble learning a new language at first, but the benefits far outweigh the struggle of keeping yourself motivated to log onto Duolingo (or an equivalent) and retraining your brain. 

Gandára, Patrícia, and Sylvia Acevedo. “Realizing the economic advantages of a multilingual workforce.” UCLA Civil Rights Project. Retrieved on December 18 (2016): 2016.

Bucknell University class of 2023
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