Foreign language skills can improve the employability of a candidate significantly, even if the desired job does not specifically require a second language as a skill. The possession of a foreign language represents the ability to dedicate oneself to an endeavour and also exhibits a wide range of skills such as analytical ability.
Why is that so?
In today's global economy, the demand for potential employees to possess alternate language skills is higher than ever before, as an increasing number of foreign governments maintain their relationships, expand businesses opportunities and pursue international development. This phenomenon is not simply the reserve of large businesses as those of a smaller scale branch out into multilingual enterprises in an effort to increase revenue.
In this context a particular focus is placed on an employee’s soft skills (interpersonal communication skills, etiquette, negotiation skills etc.) as it is these skills that, when combined with a foreign language, make for a successful multilingual business enterprise. This is because knowing how to speak a foreign language is not a guarantee of successful business technique and does not ensure that the customer invest their trust. Instead a myriad of interpersonal skills become necessary as, just in a native language, if you speak in a wooden and awkward way and frequently need the customer to reiterate their concerns and requests they will very quickly lose respect and trust. This ultimately would lead to the loss of business or at least reduced opportunity.
What languages are useful?
Basically, any foreign language can improve the employability of a candidate if they can display the ability to communicate effectively, naturally and confidently with business partners and customers. Many countries, such as Germany, teach English from an early age and encourage the students to retain their skills for future use in the wider world. Having the pre-existing ability to speak English is a valuable asset for foreign business candidates as it allows them to easily perform courses such as Business English in order to improve their ability to communicate in corporate terms.
Many foreign languages are considered as holding more employability than others due to the relative rarity of a candidate possessing them as well as the level of intricacy the language holds. A great example of this variety of language is Japanese; as it possess an entirely different set of characters/symbols to the Latin script most westerners are familiar with (3 main scripts to be precise). In this sense, possessing a foreign language can be seen as a unique selling point and may provide a critical edge against potential competitors – regardless of whether or not they actually use the language you possess.
It may be beneficial to target employers that have enterprises related to the languages you know. For example, an engineering firm with projects in England and France would most likely look upon you as a much more valuable asset to the company if you possessed French as a second language than if you did not.
How languages can be learned?
A much larger emphasis is being placed on second languages in England, with educational reforms promised by Education Secretary Michael Gove to include the provision of second language lessons from the age of seven. This marks a move away from the tradition of teaching languages at secondary schools and illustrates the acceptance of a child’s increased ability to absorb some forms of information at an early age. This notion is not new however, with many European countries significantly lowering the age that pupils begin to learn a language. Some, such as Spain and Belgium, have dramatically lowered the age to three years old in a bid to equip their citizens with a vital tool both in social and occupational pursuits.
As adults, however, the options are still wide and freely available to those dedicated to learning a language. There are a plethora of second language courses and night classes for anyone wishing to expand their language skills, many of which offer employer recognised certification.
One great way of learning a language or building upon the knowledge you already possess is to immerse yourself in the culture of the language and absorb it over time. Studies have shown that when cut off from speakers of your native tongue you are much more likely to begin picking up phrases and developing an ‘ear’ for the new language. Immersing yourself in another culture is also a great way of absorbing certain elements of a language and culture that cannot be fully taught in a classroom. An example of this situation is that in Germany it is considered to be rude if you ask indirect questions because they are considered to be misleading or unclear. An English example of a direct question is “Where is the toilet?”, whereas the indirect version is “Could you tell me where the nearest toilet is?”. The indirect question, whilst appearing more polite in English, could imply that the recipient is unable to assist or not authoritative in their field. The example given may seem arbitrary and unlikely to offend anyone, but in the business sphere this could reap serious consequences by implying that your colleagues or business partners are unable to perform their jobs or are unfit for their tasks.
Retaining learned languages
If you have a language or are in the process of learning one then do not squander it later in life by neglecting it! This valuable tool can be forgotten in the same way as nursery rhymes from our childhood are pushed to the back of our minds and eventually forgotten, only to be remembered in snippets. You must continue to practice your skill as much as possible in order to keep it fresh and useful to you. Just imagine getting a job interview and stating you possess a language skill that you learnt several years ago only to be quizzed on the language!
This article has been written by Matt Chappell on behalf of iCarhireinsurance.com. Matt regularly writes about employability issues and currently enjoys learning French as a hobby.