If it seems you’re meeting more bilingual speakers in the workplace lately, you’re right! Employers know the value of having people with multilingual skills on staff and have changed the way companies hire new individuals.
A 2017 report from New American Economy (NAE) evaluated data from more than 40,000 online job boards and found a steadily increasing demand for workers who speak more than one language.
The NAE states that while “there were 240,000 job postings aimed at bilingual workers in 2010, by 2015 that figure ballooned to 630,000 postings.” Demand was highest in companies that provide interaction-based services (such as Bank of America or Humana), but postings spanned a range of industries. Jobs were also posted for all levels, from entry-level to CEO.
Other companies are working hard to add bilingual employees to their teams, and by understanding the following five reasons why, your company can focus on attracting a multilingual workforce too.
1. The Marketplace Demands Multilingualism
English may be the predominant language in America, but 64.7 million people speak an additional language at home—most commonly Spanish, Chinese, or Tagalog. In 40% of these cases, however, the speakers are categorized as having only limited English skills. That’s a lot of people who are more likely to do their business with companies that can speak their language and understand their culture.
In fact, misunderstanding language or culture poses serious risks. US businesses reportedly lose more than $2 billion annually because of such mix-ups. A company that can communicate with customers in their native languages will be better equipped to build relationships and tap into new sources of economic potential.
Such potential can be significant, as is the case with Hispanics in the US. The Selig Center for Economic Growth reports that Hispanics controlled $1.3 trillion in purchasing power in 2015 and speculates the amount could grow to $1.7 trillion by 2020.
For those that want to expand outside of the US into international business markets, a multilingual workforce is essential because English is not the primary language for eight of America’s top ten trading partners. That’s a huge lost opportunity for businesses that don’t expand their language capabilities.
2. Good Client Interactions Depend on Bilinguals
It’s simple: when companies add customers who speak other languages, they also need to add staff who speak those languages.
An employee who speaks another language can have one-on-one conversations with customers in a way that proves the company’s degree of investment in this new market. Bilingual employees can also translate your company’s written materials, help craft advertising strategies, and give online help via live chats.
It’s not just a matter of speaking the right language. Bilingual individuals also help navigate the culture of foreign markets, and that aspect is a critical part of business success.
“Bilingual employees often bring new perspectives and strong problem-solving skills. They tend to possess excellent communication skills and a great understanding of other cultures. In an increasingly globalized world, they truly are an essential component of business growth and expansion” says Taylor Miller, Director of Marketing at All Home Connections.
Research shows that bilinguals are also more likely to have a high degree of empathy. A part of language learning involves putting oneself into another person’s shoes to understand their perspective and intention. A bilingual employee can use that skill to decide how to best relate to a customer and create a true connection.
3. Bilingual Employees Foster a Diverse Environment
Diverse teams are not just capable of innovative thinking; they show that a company is invested in hiring people with a range of talents and from a variety of backgrounds.
“Companies that encourage diversity are more likely to attract and retain better and more diverse talent. It's somewhat of a ripple effect,” says Isabella Ang, a content marketing specialist at ProSky. “A more culturally advanced company shows there is more room for progression and success. Diversity is something that many great candidates look for in a company.”
For businesses looking to expand their reach into other markets, particularly international ones, a diverse workforce that speaks many languages is vital. Having a staff that includes people from various backgrounds sends a message that the company is prepared to meet the needs of a variety of customers.
“Diversity can also create the opportunity for many markets to be opened . . . Different languages can help reach more platforms globally and make a company more relatable,” says Ang.
4. A Multilingual Team Inspires Innovation
Staff from different backgrounds bring with them a variety of perspectives, which is essential for a company looking for creative problem-solving and innovative thinking. Those who have learned more than one language are ideal for this task because, as studies have found, their brains are physically altered by the process of learning a second language.
Neuroscientists found an area in the brain is denser in bilinguals than it is in those who only speak one language. In fact, it becomes even denser as language skills increase. This part of the brain helps form concepts, process language, and think abstractly. As a result, bilingual brains are smarter, more adept at verbal and spatial abilities, and more capable of highly focused attention.
According to Gabrielle Hogan-Brun, author of Linguanomics: What Is the Market Potential of Multilingualism?, these qualities have a profound impact on how employees work collaboratively.
“Put a bunch of these malleable minds together in a company . . . you create the potential for some truly original thinking," she says. She also notes that as those from different language backgrounds use a common language: “They draw on subconscious concepts that lie below the surface of the language they happen to be conversing in."
Companies with employees who speak several different languages have access to people who see and solve problems differently, leading to truly innovative solutions for their companies.
5. Bilinguals Are Pros at Multitasking
A 2012 National Institutes of Health-funded study showed that people who speak more than one language become skilled at switching between two sets of language rules.
Viorica Marian, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University, explains that “the bilingual brain is constantly activating both languages and choosing what language to use and what language to ignore.
“It’s like a stop light. Bilinguals are always giving the green light to one language and red to another. When you have to do that all the time, you get really good at inhibiting the words you don’t need.”
The NIH study also found that people speaking several languages shifted more quickly between tasks than those who only speak one language. This ability to shift deftly between tasks translates to increased productivity and makes bilinguals valuable in any industry.
The constant change bilinguals experience as they switch back and forth between languages has other benefits as well. People who speak more than one language are typically less disturbed by environmental changes and more open to new experiences. They have more than one view of the world, an ideal perspective for any company looking to expand across the globe.
Multilingualism Is the Wave of the Future
Now is the time to invest in employees who can lead your company into the future. Bilingual employees are smart and excellent at multitasking, but they bring even more to the table than just being quality staff members. They motivate others in the company to think differently, and they’re vital to bridging the gap when businesses expand into non-English-speaking markets.
If your company isn’t already looking for ways to attract bilingual or multilingual employees, it’s time to take the leap!
Massiel Ramirez graduated from Utah State University in Marketing and Business Administration. In addition to business, she enjoys writing about social media, technology, and lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @massielmarier, she’d love to hear from you!