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How Being Bilingual Can Boost Your Career

Whether you're fresh out of college or a seasoned executive, insiders agree that fluency in a second language can not only help you stand out among prospective employers, it can also open doors to opportunities that those without foreign language skills might miss.

In today's global economy, the ability to communicate is key, and as more companies expand internationally, the ability to communicate in another language has become a significant advantage in the workforce. Research from RosettaStone found that people who speak at least one foreign language have an average annual household income that's $10,000 higher than the household income of those who only speak English. And about 17 percent of those who speak at least one foreign language earn more than $100,000 a year.

A recent survey from Los Angeles-based recruiter Korn/Ferry International found that nearly 9 out of 10 headhunters in Europe, Latin America, and Asia say that being at least bilingual is critical for success in today's business environment. And 66 percent of North American recruiters agreed that being bilingual will be increasingly important in the next 10 years.

"In today's global economy you really have to understand the way business is done overseas to maximize your potential. A second language equips you for that," says Alister Wellesley, managing partner of Stamford, Conn.-based recruiting firm Morgan Howard Worldwide. "If you're doing business overseas, or with someone from overseas, you obtain a certain degree of respect if you're able to talk in their native language."

In a tough job market, it's smart to make yourself more valuable to your employer. As the country becomes more diverse, businesses are responding to a greater number of people, both employees and customers, who don't speak English.  Learning another language may not be the easiest career-development move, but it may be among the most useful. "There's a growing awareness that studying a foreign language can help one obtain a really successful career and make them a lot more hirable," said Jerry Lampe, deputy director of the National Foreign Language Center. http://www.nflc.org/

Language skills can also be key for service industries. At the Willard InterContinental Washington, a luxury hotel a few blocks from the White House, a staff of about 570 represents 42 nations, speaking 19 languages. The Willard's front-of-house employees such as the concierge have at least two languages. Of four doormen, three speak Spanish and English. Bilingualism is not an absolute requirement, but it is desirable, according to Wendi Colby, director of human resources.

Workers with skills in a second language may have an edge when it comes to climbing Willard's professional ladder. "The individual that spoke more languages would have a better chance for managerial role, whatever the next level would be," Colby says. "They are able to deal with a wide array of clients, employees."

So which languages can give you a leg up on the job market? Insiders agree the most popular -- and marketable -- languages are Spanish, German, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese, with a growing emphasis on Mandarin, given China's booming economy.

And while any business may have a need for bilingual employees based on where it operates and with whom, the individual sectors with a strong demand for bilingual workers include (but aren't limited to) finance, sales, technology, manufacturing, professional services and government jobs.

"We see demand from a full range of industries," says Wellesley. "It really depends on which company you're working for and the country in which they're located."

Source: Yahoo, Paula Andruss, March 2008