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.