As the UK looks to global markets after Brexit, language skills have never been more critical. But research suggests that 70% of British companies have no foreign language skills for the countries they do business in – suggesting there are huge opportunities for Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic or German speakers to make a difference.
Learning another language can offer you a job that takes you all over the world or open doors to specialist careers in translation and localisation. But experts suggest there are plenty of other, more surprising benefits too.
Reach more customers for your business
Can you get by just speaking English? “You can if you’re carrying a camera, but not if you’re carrying a briefcase,” says Nataly Kelly, VP of localisation at enterprise software company Hubspot.
More than half of customers report that accessing information in their language is more important than price, she says. So having language skills means you’re one step ahead in connecting with customers overseas and growing your company’s sales.
Make better decisions
The benefits of language learning can reach far beyond communication with people in other countries. Psychology professor Albert Costa from the Pompeu Fabra University in Spain says people working in their second language make fewer mistakes in reasoning tests.
He suggests that using another language can give people a bit of emotional distance from the problems they are working on, allowing them to be more rational. Other researchers have also found that a second language can let you think more objectively. All of which are skills that can be valuable for any work.
Improve your multitasking
Researchers from Penn State University found that bilingual speakers are better at filtering out irrelevant information and focusing on what’s most important. So, they’re likely to perform better in high-pressure situations with multiple tasks to juggle.
Matt Hulett, president of language at the Rosetta Stone language learning company, says these skills can be widely helpful in areas from product development to technology. “It can also be a boon in creative fields like design and marketing that use strategic thinking and the ability to multitask across several disciplines,” he says.
Upgrade your networking
The size of your network can make all the difference to the career opportunities that come your way, so why limit yourself to one country? And making connections across borders is a whole lot easier when you can speak each other’s language.
“Understanding a language also means understanding its cultural norms and etiquette,” says brand strategist Brian Rashid. “It opens you up to a large swath of professionals and individuals who speak the same language, considerably widening your network of helpful contacts.”
Learn from new perspectives
“Bilingualism may help you understand other people,” the Economist says. “One study found that bilingual children are better at grasping other perspectives, perhaps because they are always keeping track of who speaks what, a regular reminder that everyone is different.”
A better understanding of the perspectives of others can help you influence people in your career, whether you’re nailing a job interview, handling tough negotiations or managing a diverse, international team.