What is the ROI on your language learning?


Learning a second language requires a substantial investment of both time and passion, but it pays off for those who can commit. Languages not only look good on your cv, they can really help to build valuable relationships with colleagues or business partners as well. Whether you are looking to progress in an international company, perform better in an international business setting or broaden your appeal to potential new employers, additional languages can make all the difference.

Time for a look at the increasing value of languages in a globalised economy and which languages could be most valuable for you….

“Language skills are the key underlying component to the jobs. We have 39 different nationalities on-site and we speak about 29 different languages.” Wendy Murphy, senior HR director at LinkedIn EMEA

Can you put a figure on that?

The benefits of a second language are priceless! But of course, there have been multiple attempts to put a money figure on the value of learning a new language. A report by Albert Saiz of Massachusetts Institute of Technology cited by financeandcareer.com, suggests that the financial benefits to American citizens of learning Western European languages can stretch well into the three-digit territory over a lifetime.

When you look at the values of second languages for entire economies, then the crossovers between economic success and multilingualism become even more pronounced. In a discussion in The Economist, places such as Luxembourg, Singapore and Switzerland are highlighted to illustrate the power of multilingualism to economic growth over the course of generations. Meanwhile, the cost to the British economy of monolingualism has been estimated at £48 billion a year by one economist (James Foreman-Peck, quoted in the same article).

Broaden your appeal to employers

Languages can be reason enough to employ a person in certain circumstances. This is especially true if you have a language that is scarce and lucrative in the place that you live. For example, Chinese in Europe and North America or Scandinavian languages virtually anywhere. Employers will be prepared to invest a lot in a person if they possess a language that is important to the business.

Even when you have a more mainstream second language, you potentially double your value to an international business. Makes sense: If you can do what you do in two languages, you are – potentially – twice as valuable!

What’s more, you illustrate your breadth of understanding and cultural sensitivity. Things that also have economic value. As Dr. Ben Voyer, of ESCP Europe Business School, London puts it in a Forbes Report on language learning, “Companies want people who can communicate in multinational teams in different languages….people [who are] prepared and capable of understanding the viewpoint of others.”

Globalisation is not just about the English Language

As Donald Tusk head of the European Union only half-jokingly said recently, “slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe”. Wishful thinking from the Pole you might well say, but there’s more than a  soupçon of truth to the notion that English will not be the only global language of the future.

Even with more and more people learning, some estimates suggest that only 30% of the world can speak English. What’s more, many of the biggest growth economies are made up of people without English. That’s a huge amount of trade and commerce you are potentially missing out on.

As the dynamics of world trade shift, multilingualism is surely set to become more important than ever. This is not just about learning Chinese, it’s about improving your globalised credentials in a world that is set to become ever more global!

Which language has most business value?

Saying all of this, English is still the language with the most business value in the world. If you cannot speak English then, in most places, learning English is likely to give you the greatest access to new opportunities.

As to what comes next, well estimates vary, but most studies put Spanish, French and Mandarin-Chinese in the next places. A study by the World Economic Forum ranked languages by economic values and compiled a top ten list based on the most advantageous language to learn for the greatest number of people around the world. In this study, the top three were indeed English, Chinese and French.

How to choose the language that will be most valuable to you

In reality, the value of a language is very dependent on where you live and what sort of industry you work in. If you were deciding on a new language to learn based on economic factors alone, it would be a very careful choice based on the supply and demand of that language in your locality. For example, the discussion in The Economist (again quoting Albert Saiz) suggests that if you live in an area with many Hispanic speakers, Spanish may not be the wisest choice, as you are unlikely to be able to compete with the many native speakers around you. Instead, pick a language that is scarce, but in high demand by local employers in order to generate the highest returns on your language investment.

Have you invested in a second language? Did the investment pay off? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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About the Author Simon Goodall

Language learner, teacher and contributing author to the Rosetta Stone magazine

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