Having the ability to speak a second language helps recent graduates stand out in the job applicant pool — a reality that K12 and higher education institutions can tap into for improving student ROI. Education Dive points out 6 promising signs that investing in second language programs will have many ancillary benefits.
1. Bilingual job postings tripled between 2010 and 2015
A report from the New American Economy notes that the demand for bilingual applicants is spread across the entire economic spectrum is not limited to certain professions. The specific languages range depending on the need. However, the report notes that French is particularly valued in the humanities sectors, while those who can speak Korean are seeming more attractive to employers in the education, pharmaceutical, banking and telecommunications fields.
92% of executives indicated their companies valued second language proficiency, but Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, worries that demands from employers are not being conveyed clearly enough to students. She says the ACTFL helped launch Lead with Languages for this reason, as an initiative to inform parents and students about the connection between career opportunities and language skills. While she notes students tend to understand the public sector need for dual language proficiency, those opportunities were also prevalent in the private sector.
“That word kind of gets out there,” she said. “But it doesn't really matter what career sector you’re in; knowing another language will be an asset.”
2. World language literacy is critical to business, research and international relations
Knowing a second language can also increase one’s pay by 10-15%, according to Ryan McMunn, a language expert and CEO for BRIC Language Systems. Traci O’Brien, the Chair & Undergraduate Director for German in the Department of Foreign Languages at Auburn University in Auburn, AL, says that while language proficiency may not always help a student land a job, the international experience will make them more attractive to employers. Such students may also be better able to understand cultural differences.
“You are more mobile and can understand different cultural contexts,” she said. “You have to be aware of how culture is constructed and how you can move within cultures, and how a cultural cue can mean one thing in one context and something else in another.”
3. 70% of employees believe language training has increased their confidence with peers and customers
O’Brien says there are secondary benefits to learning a foreign language beyond language skills themselves. She recalled an alumnus of the class of 2013 who recently revisited the campus; he had majored in German and civil engineering. But the student also had learned so many other skills from his humanities focus in his language courses that his peers in graduate school had not attained — including comfort with unfamiliar situations and settings. She says this is a prime example of the value of linguistic comprehension and how it can help students become more attractive to employers.
“It’s almost that every different field is like a foreign language. You have to learn the lingo of whatever field it is that you're going into,” she said. “That kind of training in learning a foreign language can help you with that."
4. Connectivity improves productivity by as much as 25%, and employees can be connected via a common language
O’Brien also saya bilingual skills can help employees take advantage of opportunities that other employees without proficiency in a second language may not have. She cites the fact that different languages may be spoken by corporate or administrative employees and employees working on the factory floor or in the field of the same organization. Being the employee that can bridge those language gaps could offer dividends for career advancement and pay by offering that employee more mobility within the field.
5. 90% of business line leaders say their teams have language proficiency issues
There has been a push for increased foreign language education and immersion programs at the K-12 level, but postsecondary student interest in learning a foreign language has declined, according to a report from the Modern Language Association. The group charts the rate of foreign language course enrollment at higher ed institutions, and their last report in 2015 showed a 6.7% enrollment drop since 2009. Though, they were unsure if it was due to a decrease in foreign language interest or a general decline of enrollment in the humanities.
Additionally, the U.S. remains behind in language proficiency, according to a study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released late last year. The study found that only half of the 20% of American citizens who speak two languages can do so at an advanced level, and more than half of those individuals are originally from other countries. Many believe that colleges must step in to allay this growing gap.
“If students take it seriously when they enter college, one way schools can help is by allowing students the room to take foreign language, even if they are majoring in other areas where it may not be required, and also promoting study abroad so students have experiences in different cultures,” Abbott told Education Dive in December.
6. 71% of business leaders plan growth in markets where English is not spoken
Despite the record decline in student enrollment in foreign language courses that was found by the 2015 MLA report, one in five K-12 students throughout the United States are either learning a world language or American Sign Language, according to Education Week. However, this can range drastically from state to state; the report found that more than half of the public school K-12 students in New Jersey were learning a foreign language, compared to fewer than 10% in states like Arizona or Arkansas. The New American Economy report also detailed the “Seal of Biliteracy,” which were forms of legislation passed by 23 states and Washington, D.C. and ask that a seal be placed on high school diplomas as a means of showing that certain graduates have “achieved advanced language skills.”
Abbott says there is an increased amount of diversity in the number of languages being offered for students at community colleges and large public university systems, due in part to the increased number of online courses available for students system-wide. By removing the need for a professor on-site, schools are able to boost the number of languages that are being offered.
“You can offer many more languages because you can do it in that hybrid fashion,” she said.