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Why investing in your language skills is the best thing you can do for your career

It’s no secret that being fluent in a second language can help you get ahead in your career. Making the effort to master English – the global lingua franca – or indeed another language, can be the stepping stone that you need to make the leap up from junior to management, or even to the executive level.

It opens doors – for individuals and for countries

One of the key ways that becoming bilingual or multilingual can boost your career is by instantly improving your chances of doing business or finding work internationally.

Language skills quite literally open doors for new opportunities. Speaking more languages helps you understand the global marketplace better, as well as understanding the wants and needs of international customers, suppliers and partners. Being able to converse directly prevents potentially costly misunderstandings and improves accuracy; it also saves translation costs.

On a national level, studies have shown that countries in which a high proportion of the workforce speaks a second language have a higher proportion of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from international trade. This is notably true of Switzerland: as a result of the multilingual nature of the country – German, French and Italian are official languages and commonly spoken – it’s estimated that multilingualism now accounts for up to 10% of the country’s GDP.

Monolingual countries that do not encourage language learning at a young age – the UK, for example – can miss international opportunities and lose out on potential earnings, despite the native-English advantage. One UK study suggests that Britain’s lack of foreign language skills costs its economy up to £48 billion ($80 billion) per year.

It increases your earning potential

Businesses see the correlation between bilingual or multilingual employees and growth in international markets, so they are willing to invest in acquiring staff with strong language skills.

A US study estimates that bilingual employees earn up to $3,000 per year more than monolingual individuals. A second US study published findings that learning German can increase income by up to 3.8% in the US, as though rarely-spoken, Germany is a key player in European markets.

And it doesn’t stop there; Euro London, a recruitment agency in the UK specialising in foreign languages, even estimates that being bilingual can increase your salary by up to 15%.

It makes you a more effective communicator

Being bilingual or multilingual sets you apart. Language skills are coveted by employers looking to build a competitive business and are sought after when interviewing for the next step in your career.

Second language-fluency can help you secure a respected job at a major international firm. US studies have revealed that demand for bilingual employees has more than doubled in the last five years, and that nearly 40% of US businesses plan to hire bilingual staff. When interviewers are faced with equally-qualified candidates, they show greater interested in hiring the bilingual candidate.

Everything comes down to effective communication. Proficiency in a second language makes networking more effective, allows you to make the most of opportunities and begin potentially profitable conversations – both for you and for your business.

And it’s not just about the immediate bottom line either; being able to converse in your host nation’s native tongue during breaks is seen as respectful and helps build better long-term relationships.

Moreover, speaking more than one language has been shown to increase skills like open-mindedness, empathy and creativity: all important for career success and progression, no matter what your level.

It makes you a better leader

These skills become even more important when progressing to management-level roles. The annual EF English Proficiency Index has shown that workers with better English skills are more often promoted.

An element of understanding the culture is required when mastering a new language, so managers that speak more than one language are often more able to relate to coworkers and communicate more effectively – an essential skill when managing employees from different cultures and backgrounds.

As we move up the executive ladder, the importance of communication skills become even more pronounced. Interestingly, executives tend to speak worse English than management-level employees; improving English skills would thus be particularly important for someone managing a team of people who may well speak better English than they do.

It makes you future-proof

As the EF EPI report shows, a high level of English proficiency correlates with higher GDP, higher average income and innovation on the national level. Indeed, countries with stronger language skills – particularly in English – are stronger and more globally connected.

But this holds just as true on the individual level: not only is the future of work international, but strong language skills coupled with strong communication skills, as well as an understanding for how to bridge cultural divides, will become even more important in a world where robots and artificial intelligence take over rote tasks and anything that does not require human connection, creativity and understanding.

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