Sara Mosavi | June 7th 2012 | @GlobalMkts
As businesses continue to expand and pursue their international aspirations, will future job-seekers need to pay more attention to their language skills?
Why should the ability to speak more than one language make you more rational? Research recently published by Boaz Keysar from the University of Chicago investigates just that point and finds: “It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. We discovered, however, that the opposite is true: using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases.” In other words, knowing more than one language is not just about making your foreign holidays more interesting but it is also about having the ability to step outside your comfort zone, consider different perspectives and figure out colleagues and clients from other backgrounds.
Thanks to that research my Italian degree now looks a lot more worthy. But what is it really worth in the job market? A recent global survey of executives carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 43% of respondents expect job candidates to speak at least one language in addition to their native tongue. A quarter of those surveyed also expect over half the workforce at their firms to be able to speak a second language. And nearly all the executives surveyed expect more and more of their clients and business partners to be based outside of their home markets. No surprise, then, that being multi-lingual will be a nifty addition to any résumé.
A few months ago I spent some time convincing my 15-year-old brother to take up Spanish at school. After hours of arguing that learning languages opens up career opportunities and that in an ever more global business environment competition for your dream job can come from any corner of the world, he gave in.
The fact is that learning modern foreign languages after the age of 14 has not been compulsory in the United Kingdom since 2004, and since then numbers have been declining. In 2005 61% of students were learning a language; the number had fallen to 44% by 2010. A similar picture is found in America where languages are also not mandatory: according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, only 18.5% of students from kindergarten to high-school were enrolled to study a language in 2007-08. On the other hand, English is compulsory from the age of six in China and it constitutes a basic module in the majority of university degrees offered in the country.
John Longworth, who lobbies the UK government on behalf of British companies as the director-general of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), thinks that " a renewed focus on language skills at school, as well as helping companies forge new connections overseas, could help ensure that current and future business owners are pre-disposed to thinking internationally".
The World Trade Organisation predicts that emerging economies will account for the biggest share of world imports this year, taking over from developed economies. New trading relationships are being formed across a multitude of borders creating an ever more multi-polar business environment. As our survey suggests, companies that want to be a part of the new conversations will need an ever more multi-lingual workforce.