Job Seekers: Learn a Second Language


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The world of employment is more global than ever, and knowing a second language can often boost your chances of finding a job
By Clare Curley

Not all job news is bad. The world is still becoming more global every day. That means there are more opportunities for bilingual people, whether they speak Spanish, Mandarin or Urdu.

“It doesn’t matter what career path you’re taking,” says Marty Abbott, Director of Education of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “Knowledge of a language beyond English is going to open doors for you.”

Where are the Opportunities?

Any foreign language and cultural experience can boost your resume. “More and more companies are becoming multinational,” Abbott says. “It’s not just Americans going abroad, but also foreign companies coming to the United States.”

Areas with potential include the following:

  • Government: “The sector we’re hearing from most vocally right now is the government,” Abbott says. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency plans to build its language capacity over the next few years, she says. That will lead to scholarship opportunities for students and teachers — and eventually more jobs, as well.
  • Health care: “Cross-cultural care” is a growing trend in health care. Some hospitals are in communities where people speak dozens of different languages. Depending on the location, interpreters often are hired to help doctors communicate with patients in different languages.
  • Business: “We’re starting to see this real demand for employees with [second language] capacity so they can function in a corporate environment,” Abbott says.


Employers want people who can speak a second language fluently — not just read or write it. Employees are often asked to attend meetings overseas. The meetings may be held in English, “but a lot of business gets done away from the corporate table,” she says. “In some cultures, business only gets done in a social setting.”

To start, look for organizations with offices in the countries that use your language abilities. “You may not necessarily be placed in their international office, but the fact that you have the language skills could be an asset,” says Cindy Graham, the senior assistant director of career services at Northwestern University

But language alone won’t get you the job. Graham says typically other skills or experience also are required.

What’s Hot?

“Spanish still seems to be the language listed most often,” Graham says. About 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic. Therefore, companies often want employees who speak Spanish and understand Latin American cultures, as well.

China’s economy is growing while many countries’ have shrunk. More than 1 billion people in the world speak Mandarin. It is also the fastest-growing language taught in U.S. schools. “People are looking at China as the next big economic competitor to the U.S.,” Abbott says.

Using Library Resources

Libraries have books and other resources in the languages spoken in their community. If you want to improve your foreign language ability, here are some options:

Multimedia — At the reference section, ask about books, language cassettes and videos that teach foreign languages.

Movies — Many language learners watch movies to improve their pronunciation and listening skills.

Software — Ask the librarian about language-learning software like Rosetta Stone, which offers courses in more than 30 languages. Also, go online (see recommended list) for career advice and articles about the benefits of language learning.

*English as a Second Language (ESL)*– Would you liken to improve your English? Many libraries offer ESL classes. If you have children, ask your librarian about family ESL programs for parents and children.

Special Programs – Ask your librarian for other language programs. For example, the Sacramento Public Library has a program called Read Around the World, in which stories are read out loud in German, French, Spanish, Urdu, Russian and Arabic.

Remember, your cross-cultural knowledge could open doors for your career. When you’re looking for a job, being bilingual is always good. But the ability to understand cultures, as well as languages, is even better.

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