Adding foreign language skills to your resume is a surefire way to boost your value to potential employers. The demand for people who can speak and write in multiple languages is increasing rapidly across a variety of industries and careers, and workers with bilingual proficiency enjoy the benefits.
¿Habla usted español? The nation’s Hispanic community is nearly 33 million people strong and pumps almost a trillion dollars annually into the US economy. This powerful group is only expected to grow stronger in the coming years, increasing the need for bilingual proficiency in the workplace.
In Any Language, a Growing Demand
Hispanic and Asian populations in the US are expected to triple over the next 50 years, according to population projections by the US Census Bureau. With the number of non-Hispanic whites dropping to one-half of the total population by 2050, the American demographic is expected to look vastly different.
In this evolving cultural picture, bilingual workers in skilled trades become more and more valuable. Opportunities for Spanish speakers can be easily found in finance, social work, business, and healthcare. On the West Coast, jobseekers who can communicate in Japanese, Korean or Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) are becoming highly valued by prospective employers.
From translation to tourism, government to healthcare, trained bilingual workers are seeing more career opportunities than ever. Among the most frequent employers of bilingual workers are law enforcement, civic organizations, social service agencies, banks and financial institutions.
Bilingual employees may enjoy higher salaries than those who only speak one language. In law enforcement, it is not uncommon to see hiring bonuses for bilingual workers, in addition to monthly stipends.
High-Tech Applications and Support
As the world becomes more dependent on technology, the need grows to translate it to a wider audience. A day in the life of a bilingual IT worker may involve:
• Working with a Spanish-speaking client in a tech-support environment;
• Translating help files and user guides for global product releases;
• Creating software applications tailored to a worldwide market.
Specialized jobs in technical writing, customer service, and software development benefit greatly from multiple-language support, and bilingual ability is typically preferred by potential employers.
Healthcare and Social Services
Careers in healthcare can be lucrative and rewarding and, for bilingual workers, they may be easier to find. Jobs in hospitals, private offices, and public clinics can be enhanced by bilingual workers, who provide a necessary link in communicating with patients who do not speak English.
In the social services industry, workers trained as cross-cultural counselors, social workers, and case workers can use their bilingual skills to communicate with a wider range of clients.
The Bilingual Business World
"Bilingual and bicultural Latinos can offer valuable assets to any firm wishing to compete in the global market," says Graciela Kenig in her book Best Careers for Bilingual Latinos. Investment firms, import/export companies, and marketing firms traditionally have a strong need for workers who can add multiple languages to their proficiency in business. Typical tasks for a bilingual employee in business might include:
• Translating internal documents;
• Hosting clients or guests from foreign offices;
• Creating marketing materials to appeal specifically to a foreign culture.
Consulting is another popular field for workers with bilingual or multilingual proficiency. Bilingual consultants bridge the gap between clients and business operating in two separate cultures. The consulting field is expected to grow faster than average in the next decade, as the US moves further into the global market.
TEACH Grants for Bilingual Teachers
Bilingual teaching is always an in-demand career, but many students don’t know that they can drop their federal student aid debt by taking on a career in bilingual education. Obtaining a TEACH Grant may mean up to $4000 per year for higher education, if students commit to teaching in a bilingual education program after graduation.
Federal Student Loan Forgiveness
When federal student aid comes from Perkins Loans, a teaching career may lead to loan forgiveness. Each year a public or nonprofit elementary school teacher serves full time in foreign languages, bilingual education, or other high-need areas, a percentage of their Perkins Loan is canceled:
• 15 percent canceled per year for the first and second years of service;
• 20 percent canceled for the third and fourth years; and
• 30 percent canceled for the fifth year.
After five years of service, the total Perkins Loan debt is forgiven. Working to educate the next generation is its own reward, and canceling student debt is just another incentive to begin a career in education.
Bilingual Benefits Beyond Language
The benefit of bilingual employees goes deeper than language. Bilingual people use different frames of reference to approach problems, thereby increasing analytical ability. "Bilingual and bicultural people see things from a different angle," notes Octavio Mateo, human relations manager for Citibank, in Best Careers for Bilingual Latinos.
Workers with proficiency in multiple languages are valuable assets across all industries, but it’s up to the individuals to prove their value to prospective employers. Here are a few tips bilingual workers can use to highlight and enhance their skills:
• Highlight bilingual ability in the interview. Language skills should always be noted on a resume, but prospective employees should also make note of proficiency during a face-to-face interview.
• Improve written skills in both languages. Bilingual workers may be expected to use their second language in speech and writing. Taking advanced language classes can improve the written skills of native speakers, further enhancing marketability to employers.
Enhancing bilingual ability with formal education may be the most efficient way to attract attention in job interviews. While bilingual skill cannot guarantee a particular career or salary, workers who know how to market their language ability show an added dimension of their ability to prospective employers.
Kelli D. Smith is the senior editor for Edu411.org, a career education directory for finding colleges and universities, training schools, and technical institutes.