Sunday, 11 September 2016

Do You Get Paid More For Being Multilingual?

When I was fifteen, a friend's mother, a French professor at a US university, made a comment that stuck with me. She said that foreign languages, in the world of work, weren't worth a dime. Unless you had to offer something else besides, preferably a solid set of technical skills.

At the time, I didn't really comprehend the significance of this statement. All I knew was that I liked languages and that I wanted a job where I could use them. Mme Professor was right, of course. When I was job hunting just a couple of years later, I found out very quickly that nobody will employ you just for being a linguaphile. Speaking more than one language is not a guaranteed route to a well paid job. Or any job.

Now, in the course of my higgledy piggledy professional life, I have indeed been paid for being multilingual, but only once I had half a decade of work experience under my belt. It was at the tender age of 21 when I managed to land a job with an international travel and financial services company who paid a bonus for each language its employees could communicate in. In the beginning, my department was small and buzzed with the fun we all had chatting to the different corners of the world, often rescuing distressed customers who had been robbed of all of their belongings. But after a few years, the operation morphed into one of those behemoth call centres with the tasks becoming ever more mundane. I felt like an automaton hooked onto a headset and taking call after call after call. The personal touch, as well as the gratification factor that came with seeing a complicated mission through from beginning to end, were lost and so I left.

My next position was as a Braillist for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People) who also paid a language skills supplement. The objective was to transcribe a wide range of printed materials, including text books, magazines and exams, into Braille. Before being eligible for the extra pay, I first had to learn Braille and then pass tests in the language-specific Braille codes, the training for which was provided in-house. Oh, I loved that job - imagine being paid for reading books all day, I was in heaven! - but I eventually quit when, due to a regulation change, we were consigned to spend our waking days transcribing gas and electricity bills and very little else. I was bored shitless. That was not what I had signed up for.

In my experience, bonus payments for language skills are rather rare. Most of the time, foreign language requirements - no matter whether they are an "essential" or a "desirable" part of a job spec - do not translate into a neat, quantifiable wad of dosh that rolls into your bank account at the end of every month. However, if you have the skills for the job, being more than monolingual can give you the edge over another candidate, as well as widening the choice of jobs you can apply for.

If anyone has any opinions or experiences to share on this topic, I would sure love to hear from you.













16 comments:

  1. No, you don't get paid extra. What gripes me is when people are seriously fluent in three or more languages and STILL out of work.

    Anyways there's hope, I suppose, as I can still count to ten in French, German, Italian, Portuguese. And English. And order a drink.

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    1. Hi there! This is a whole huge topic... I've barely scratched the surface, I feel. For example, there are just so many language graduates who are either unable to find jobs or they've taken jobs that don't require any foreign language skills. Just take JK Rowling! LOL!

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    2. I think it is huge too. I swear some of the tradespeople we know could translate for the UN in five languages. Fluently. Languages shouldn't be an option, or a sole purpose, they should be a must-do along with other skills. /rant :D

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  2. I've never been paid extra but it sure helps to learn at least of bit of another language. Over the years, I've had to learn conversational Spanish, French and now German just to be able to communicate effectively with different teams (though I'm way too old at this point to be accent-free fluent).

    It's still mostly skills over language though ... unless the language is technology specific, regardless of how many languages they spoke, Adecco would rent me people at the same price as long as they had the same background / skill set so I'm really skeptical of their numbers.

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    1. Hello! I guess accent-free is virtually impossible for any languages learnt after the age of 10, sadly ;-)

      I do wonder how one can quantify how much $$ a language skill is worth in the workplace. I think each additional language opens up more job opportunities for the individual, so it's definitely beneficial that way.

      Thanks for chipping in!

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  3. I've certainly looked at languages as part of the hiring process when I headed a training team - particularly South India. Someone who could train in 5 languages (English, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam & Telegu) would get the job before just English & 1 other as I could then send him/her to support requirements in more locations and be a back-up in case the 'local' say Tamil trainer wasn't available. :-)

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    1. So, in South India, there are lots of people who don't speak Hindi...? I know it's not a local language down there, I just assumed that everyone would learn Hindi (and English) at school. And I also guess that a monolingual Indian just doesn't exist ;-)

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  4. I don't know if knowing languages leads to extra pay in jobs that don't rely on the holder having additional languages, but I do know translators (whose entire profession revolves around being at least bilingual!) get paid a pittance!

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  5. While overall I'd (sadly) agree, there is an exception to this rule! In Canada, if you want to be hired as a elementary/highschool teacher or a government employee you are wildly more likely to get the job if you can teach/work in both French and English. I used to work at the Berlitz language school in our fair capital (Ottawa) and nearly all the students there were learning/improving their French to move up the civil service ladder. Likewise, most provinces (other than Quebec, where it's the reverse) have French immersion public schools and are always desperate for teachers who can teach subject matter in French (a desperation which sometimes leads them to hire teachers whose French is _really_ not up to the task, unfortunately).
    And, to be honest, my mainstays have always been writing or teaching Enlgish/French- and my employers often admit later that they chose me because they were (basically) getting a two-for-one deal. So, maybe I wasn't getting paid _more_, but at least I was getting the job!

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    1. Hello there! The situation is similar here in Spain, where you need to know the regional language (Catalan, Euskara, etc) if you want to be a government employee. There is a lot of debate on whether that's fair or not, because it disadvantages against those who did not grow up in a particular autonomous region. It's not a question of communication either - everyone speaks Castilian on a native-speaker level. I guess that's a big difference from the situation in Canada, where many living in Francophone areas do not speak English very well.

      Thanks for chipping in :)

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    2. Very true. The Quebecois are not known for their English skills and vice versa. However, re: Spain, policies like that do do a lot to keep the language alive, so I guess it's a bit of a toss up...

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  6. your experience in your youth does demonstrate that it will give you a leg up in customer service jobs, sales jobs, tutoring jobs... and I think that given how hard it is for young people to get a decent first job nowadays that is still a huge advantage. And young people need that confidence and job experience early on in life otherwise they will not move forward. Next, with the opening of internet entrepreneurship if you have that business knack, it is an asset as well because it will help you build your network and customer relations without having to rely on outside services... I can think of travel agencies, international companies, translation services, FBI and more.
    Many government agencies, hospitality industry, city hall and other city venues would rather hire a multilingual person, or if you do start entry level, your language skills will propel you. So because competition is rough these days, I say to my students do not give up on languages just because it does not seem like the norm in USA, on the contrary it will give you an edge if you have a certain passion and know how to market yourself. The social skills are probably the strongest asset above all, --- because if you are not social/sociable who would want to hire you? It comes full circle.

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    1. All valid points, thanks for chipping in! What do you teach, if I may ask...?

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  7. Your job as a braillist does sound wonderful. I would have enjoyed that job very much!

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    1. It was very enjoyable for the first two or three years... until the nature of the work changed :( I did work with really great people, though.

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