Can Being Bilingual Give You a Professional Advantage?

By Robert Half on November 19, 2014 at 8:00am

In a global economy, it’s not uncommon to pick up the phone or open your inbox and find yourself communicating with a client or employee in another country. Are you in a position to help if that person doesn’t speak English?

You may have heard the story. Chevrolet took its top-selling car to the Latin American market, only to see sales fall off a cliff. Why? No one checked the Spanish translation of Nova. Turns out a name that means it doesn’t go doesn’t go over very well in the auto market there.

All it takes is one bilingual employee on staff to stop a colossal mistake like that. Being the employee who helps your company avoid a cross-cultural failure like Chevrolet’s can make you an invaluable part of the team. Here are some other ways learning a second language is beneficial in the workplace:

Be a local asset

As more and more U.S. companies move into international markets, bilingual or multilingual employees can be integral to this expansion. If your company needs knowledge of a particular language immediately and you can step in to help meet the need, you might find yourself the linchpin of a vital business deal or a key contact person for international customers. Talk about a great way to boost your visibility as an administrative professional!

Facilitate day-to-day work in another language

There’s a saying in the armed forces: If you want anything done right away, talk to a sergeant. That’s because if you talk to anyone higher up in the chain of command, he’ll just tell a sergeant to do it. Administrative professionals are in many ways the sergeants of the business world. You handle the day-to-day tasks of organization, communication and prioritization that allow the business to function.

Now imagine needing to facilitate all those tasks for a company that operates in other countries or serves customers abroad. A multilingual admin who can support the daily business functions can be indispensable.

Develop other important skills

Learning a second language also boosts many other skills that are useful in business. These include communication skills — such as active listening and being alert to nonverbal cues — as well as analytical skills, detail-mindedness and the ability to better appreciate varying perspectives. All of these will make you a stronger employee across-the-board.

Gain access to perks

According to the OfficeTeam Salary Guide, U.S. companies may pay up to 12 percent more for administrative candidates who are bilingual or multilingual. On top of that, knowing a foreign language could potentially open up some exciting business travel opportunities.

How has learning a second language helped you in the workplace? Share your experiences in comments below.

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