Currently two thirds of the world’s population speak two or more languages; this represents over 3.5 billion people, how many work in your company? Although speaking a second language can have obvious communication benefits, there are also other cognitive skills that bilingual speakers obtain, which recruiters should be aware of.
The British Council recently released an article ‘Languages for the Future’, in which they highlighted the importance of culture, stating that languages are the bedrock of the world’s cultural heritage and that every language offers a rich and unique insight into different ways of thinking and living for people around the globe.
As part of their degrees, the majority of multi-lingual students must spend an academic year abroad in a country which speaks the language they are studying – this year is called Erasmus. During this year, students are immersed in the culture, tradition and social norms of this country. Speaking at the GRADchances Language Fair 2014, Damien Stone from Concentrix stated,
‘It is really important for students to immerse themselves in culture and not just the language, we are primarily looking for students who have a good knowledge of the culture of countries’.
By having a greater knowledge of the cultures of various countries, employees have the ability to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their clients abroad – strengthening a company’s overall relationship with these clients. In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart’.
Apart from cultural knowledge, bilingual students also have much more developed cognitive skills. In its current consultation document for a strategy for foreign languages in education, the Department of Education and Skills make the case that that people who are bilingual and multilingual tend to be more flexible, more creative and more fluent in their mother tongue. They also communicate more clearly and accurately to diverse audiences. Research has also shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention to detail and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another.
In conclusion, it is important for employers to understand the cognitive skills attached to employees that are bilingual or multilingual, as these skills are just as important in the workplace as the language itself.
The GRADchances Language Fair will return to the RDS, Dublin on 17 February 2016. This event will bring students, graduates and employers together to explore the wide range of career opportunities that are available for multi-linguists. For more information, visit the gradireland website.