Bilingualism: The Business Benefits

As a child, I took foreign languages courses at school until the fourth grade.  At the school I attended, Spanish was only taught to the students in kindergarten through the third grade.  When Spanish was finally offered again in the eighth grade, I decided to take the class.  I continued to take Spanish courses throughout high school, and I even enrolled in Spanish classes my first semester of college.  I am very passionate about the language, but by taking Spanish courses, I was using credit hours that I could have devoted to my major, Finance. This caused me to begin to doubt if bilingualism was really beneficial in the real world or not.  Since I am so passionate about Spanish, I decided to ask a few business recruiters if they thought bilingualism would be beneficial in the long run.  All three of the recruiters that I discussed bilingualism with said that they wished they knew another language.  They each told me to stick with the language, because the benefits outweigh the time it takes to learn another language.  No matter what age someone is when they begin to learn a second language, the advantages of being bilingual or multilingual are just as beneficial as learning two languages from birth.  Children, teenagers, business professionals, business executives, and even people who do not even work can benefit from knowing multiple languages.  There are more benefits to bilingualism than most people realize, especially in the business world.  Bilingualism creates cognitive benefits, more job opportunities, the opportunity to expand one’s client base, larger salaries, and other advantages that effect bilinguals every day.

Learning another language engages the brain and creates many cognitive benefits.  The cognitive advantages that come with knowing multiple languages vary from daily advantages to educational advantages to health advantages.  Daily activities that are benefited by bilingualism include attention control, multitasking, internal conflicts relating to language, and executive functions.  According to psychologist Ellen Bialystok, bilingualism strengthens brain networks, known as the “CEO networks”, that manage executive functions.  These networks control daily functions such as planning, goal setting, analysis, judgment, and memory (Chau).  As the executive functions are strengthened by learning and using another language, it becomes easier for a bilingual person to dispose of unnecessary information and make decisions quicker (Wade).  When someone decides to learn another language, the grey matter in his or her brain increases as he or she learns the language.  An increase in grey matter helps the brain work faster and more efficiently.  The grey matter in the brain is sometimes associated with vocabulary acquisition (Chau).  So, as someone’s knowledge of a second or third language increases, the grey matter in their brain increases, which helps this person to increase his or her vocabulary and retain more of the information.  An increase in vocabulary in both a person’s native language and second language can be very beneficial in the classroom, when taking placement tests, when giving speeches, and when writing professional documents.  Along with this benefit of bilingualism, there are also several other cognitive education advantages that come with learning another language.  It has been shown in several studies that students who are enrolled in a foreign language class tend to receive better scores in other subject areas than students who are not enrolled in a foreign language class (Parisi).  In one study, researchers compared the test scores and cognitive functions of bilingual children and monolingual children.  They studied children that had known multiple languages for five to 10 years.  These bilingual children scored better on the administered tests, had better attention skills, were better able to resist distractions, and had better decision making and judgement skills than the monolingual students that were included in the study (Chau).  Also included in the cognitive benefits of bilingualism are several health benefits.  Many researchers would argue that bilingualism helps strengthen the brain, which helps the brain stay competent for a longer period of time (Landes).  Elderly bilinguals tend to have a stronger control over cognitive functions than monolinguals.  For example, those who know two or more languages can recall memories from the past later into their lives than those who only know one language.  On average, dementia occurs four to five years later in people who are knowledgable in multiple languages than in people who only know their native language.  According to a study by Tamar Gollan from the University of California, San Diego, the higher the degree of bilingualism, the more resistant a person was to the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (Landes). 

Even with all of the cognitive advantages that come with bilingualism, some researchers still argue that there are cognitive disadvantages that come with bilingualism as well.  Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals tend to take longer in cognitive tests to name pictures or list items that fit into a specified category.  Even if the bilingual test taker answers the questions in his or her native language, the test taker still averages a longer response time than monolinguals according to a past study (Pelham et al. 313).  In relation to the response times on these studies, monolinguals tend to have less hesitation when speaking than bilinguals.  When someone speaks more than one language, his or her brain has to actively choose which language to use when speaking, so bilinguals tend to have more moments in which they have to think before they speak.  While some view this as a disadvantage, it can also be seen as an advantage.  When one takes time to think before speaking, he or she can decide the best way to phrase his or her thoughts before blurting them out.  These extra milliseconds of thought could prevent someone from saying something he or she would regret as soon as his or she is done speaking.  This is especially beneficial when speaking to a superior or presenting in front of a large group of people.

Along with the many cognitive benefits of bilingualism, there are also employment benefits that come with knowing more than one language.  For example, when someone knows two or more languages, he or she is apply to apply for more jobs.  A bilinguals can apply for jobs not only in their native language, but they can also apply for jobs that require them to speak another language as well.  When one speaks multiple languages, he or she can apply for jobs in multiple countries, which creates a much larger opportunity for employment.  If a bilingual does not want to move away from his or her home country, he or she can apply for jobs with international companies that are headquartered in the bilingual’s home country.  Economies and businesses are constantly being globalized, and this creates an increase in the demand for people to fill job positions related to international trade.  As business is becoming more international, bilingualism or multilingualism is becoming a more desired skill for new hires.  Companies that are continuously growing abroad or companies that work with businesses in other countries will be increasing their search for future employees who speak multiple languages as business continues to grow globally (Douglas).

According to a study done by the Northern Illinois University, around 40 percent of businesses reported that they believe the ability to speak multiple languages will be very important when hiring new employees in the next decade (“Bilingual”).  Many recruiters are very impressed when they see that students have given time and dedication in order to learn another language and perfect said language (“Bilingual”).  Employers are beginning to focus more on hiring bilingual employees to work on oversees projects especially.  One survey of major firms reported that businesses spend $1 million on average to replace employees that are not fit for these oversees projects (Padilla 21).  Many of these employees report back to their employers saying they had difficulty adjusting to the language and cultural differences of the foreign countries.  Another employment benefit of bilingualism comes with promotions.  When a company is looking to promote, an employee who is bilingual may stand out more to the employers than an employee who is not bilingual.  This special skill will help the employee especially stand out if the company is international or is looking to begin business with companies in foreign countries.

When someone is bilingual, he or she is able to offer services to customers that are native speakers of both languages that he or she knows.  By knowing multiple languages, multilingual are able to expand their client base significantly.  As technology continues to advance, business people are able to communicate and conduct business anywhere across the globe.  However, if a company or employee has to use a translator in order to communicate with foreign clients, negotiations could get scrambled in the translation process (Douglas).  As global business is rapidly increasing, more and more businesses are realizing the struggles of communicating with people who speak a different language.  When two companies have to communicate through interpreters, it makes the negotiation much less personal.  Using an interpreter also takes significantly more time to communicate than if the two people in the conversation could just speak directly to each other.  The ability to communicate effectively in multiple languages is seen as an imperative tool for successful relationship building (Chau).  For example, the CEO of BRIC Language Systems, Ryan Mcmunn, shared his personal story and stated that if he had not known Mandarin, his business endeavors in China would not have been successful (Chau).  Another benefit of knowing multiple languages is that when a bilingual is communicating with someone, he or she knows what is considered rude or inappropriate in whichever language is being spoken.  In some languages, certain words mean different things in different contexts.  If someone does not know this, they could say a word that he or she thought meant one thing but that actually means something completely different in the context of the conversation.  For example, the Chinese word “ma” could mean horse, mummy, or mother depending on the intonation and context of the conversation (Dolainski). 

Several studies have shown that bilingualism and the ability to communicate clearly in two or more languages is very beneficial when creating relationships with clients.  According to one study, 70 percent of employers in the survey agree than effective communication in multiple languages can enhance the retention and satisfaction rates of customers with specific language backgrounds (“Bilingual”).  Many companies believe that they can engage in new contracts with suppliers in different language backgrounds, create new business in foreign countries, and expand businesses that area already running in other countries with the help of employees who are multilingual (“Bilingual”).

Those who can speak and read more than one language often receive a larger salary then their counterparts who only know one language.  Some people who only work with clients and companies in their own native language believe that taking the time to learn another language is a waste of time.  However, these people are overlooking or possibly even straight up ignoring potential revenue sources that come when someone knows multiple languages (Douglas).  The more languages that a person knows, the more human capital this person has.  The increase in human capital creates a likely increase in the amount of money earned over time (Landes).  The salary benefits of bilingualism can be tied to the cognitive benefits.  Since people who know more than one language have more grey matter and stronger brains, they should be able to work longer than people who only know one language.  Since bilinguals can work later into their lives, they have an income for more years than monolinguals.  Therefore, a bilingual’s lifetime income would be greater than a monolingual’s because the bilingual is working more years of his or her life. 

According to the CEO of BRIC Language Systems, Ryan McMunn, bilinguals that entered the workforce in 2014 received an average of 10 to 15 percent more pay than monolinguals (Chau).  Many companies in a broad range of industries offer a pay incentive to employees who are fluent in two or more languages.  For example, government workers in California who know more than one language earn an extra $.58 per hour (Douglas).  If these workers worked 40 hours a week and 50 weeks out of the year, they would receive about $1,200 more than monolinguals in the same position.  According to Rosetta Stone, multilingual employees in more substantial jobs could possibly make $10,000 a year or more than their monolingual counterparts (Douglas).

Other advantages of bilingualism include cultural understanding, enhanced education experiences, and travel and adventure benefits.  As technology is advancing and businesses are becoming more global, many countries are emphasizing the importance of teaching cultural and international affairs in schools.  As other countries are advancing, the United States seems to be falling behind in these categories.  According to a studies by the Asia Society and the National Geographic Society, American students are next to last when ranked against students in eight other industrial countries on the students’ knowledge of current affairs (Stewart 230).  By learning another language, students can get a first hand look at how other cultures and countries do things differently than what the students are accustomed to.  Learning a second or third language does not just consist of memorizing vocabulary and learning grammar rules. In order to fully study another language, one must place that vocabulary and grammar rules into the context of the culture associated with the language (Parisi).  Bilingual students are able to better associate the language with its culture by participating in study abroad programs through their schools.  As businesses are growing internationally, study abroad programs during high school and college are becoming more common.  Studying abroad in a foreign country is an excellent way to expand one’s knowledge of the country’s language and culture.  If a student already knows the language before studying abroad, he or she will feel more comfortable upon arrival in the foreign country. 

Bilingualism also makes traveling to foreign places easier and more interactive.  Knowing multiple languages increases the number of places one can travel and communicate.  When people can speak the language of the country they are visiting, they can have more personal interactions with the locals, and they can focus more on adventuring than trying to figure out what signs say.  Bilinguals do not have to search for someone in the foreign country that speaks the traveler’s native language in order to figure out plans for the day.  The bilingual person can read signs and pamphlets on his or her own, and this could save a significant amount of time in the long run.  When people know the language and culture of the travel destination that they are going to, they can dive much deeper into the history and places throughout the country.  When one doesn’t know the language or culture, he or she is often labeled as a tourist and most likely sticks out like a sore thumb in crowds (Parisi).

As said by CEO Lisa Chau, “adding another language to your skill set is simply smart” (Chau).  Knowing more than one language benefits a person in multiple ways.  One way that bilingualism benefits a person is cognitively.  Not only does the brain get a workout by learning another language, but people’s mental health and immunity against diseases increases when they know multiple languages.  Bilingualism pushes back the onset of dementia and can also help prevent Alzheimers from developing earlier in life.  Since those who know multiple languages are less likely to be affected by these diseases, they can work later in life.  This means that in the long run, bilinguals bring home more money than their monolingual counterparts, because they can work more years.  Bilinguals also have a larger range of job opportunities than monolinguals, and they often get paid more for their work than their monolingual counterparts.  Also, people who speak more than one language are able to communicate with more people cross the world, so they can expand their client base and business into foreign countries.  This foreign expansion creates more jobs and brings in more money to the company.  Other daily benefits such as cultural understanding, educational experiences, and travel and exploring advantages also come with knowing more than one language. 

Once a person learns a second language, learning a third and fourth language is much easier.  While many people may argue that it takes too long to master a second language, or that they just do not have the time required to learn another language, everyone can find at least 30 minutes a day to sit down and learn the language.  No matter what age a person is, it is always beneficial to be bilingual. “Bilingualism is an experience that accumulates and changes over time,” however the multitude of benefits that come with bilingualism never go away (Walsh).

Works Cited

“Bilingual College Grads Are in Demand, Says NIU Survey.” NIU Newsroom. Northern Illinois University, 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.

Chau, Lisa. “Why You Should Learn Another Language.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

Dolainski, Stephen. “Language Training Improves Global Business at ARCO.” Workforce 76.2 (1997): 38. ProQuest. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Douglas, Ashtyn. “Translation Please: How It Helps You to Be Multilingual in Business.” Business.com. Business.com, 9 June 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.

Landes, Harlan. “Do Multilingual Individuals Earn More Money?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 13 Apr. 2012. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Padilla, Amado M. “Rewarding Workplace Bilingualism.” Language Magazine Oct. 2002: 21-23. Web.

Parisi, Tom. “10 Reasons to Be Bilingual.” NIU Newsroom. Northern Illinois University, 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.

Pelham, Sabra D., and Lise Abrams. “Cognitive Advantages And Disadvantages In Early And Late Bilinguals.” Journal Of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory & Cognition 40.2 (2014): 313-325. Business Source Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

Stewart, Vivien. “A World Transformed: How Other Countries Are Preparing Students For The Interconnected World Of The 21St Century.” Phi Delta Kappan 87.3 (2005): 229-232. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Wade, Lizzie. “Being Bilingual Changes the Architecture of Your Brain.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

Walsh, Bari. “Bilingualism as a Life Experience.” Usable Knowledge. Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.


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