The U.S., Germany, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the largest countries comprised of immigrants. Without a doubt, the bilingual population is growing. The U.S. is the world’s second largest Spanish-speaking country, despite having English as the official language.
Bilingual immigrants are good for business, but you do not need to be an immigrant to contribute. While second-generation immigrants are more likely to be bilingual than non-immigrants, not all 11.6 million Spanish-speaking Americans are first or second generation immigrants.
Many Americans become somewhat bilingual by default. Although foreign language study is not a national requirement in American schools, most high schools offer at least a year of Spanish or French as an elective. Many high school graduates continue their foreign language study for at least another semester in college. Foreign language study is compulsory in many European countries where children are learning as young as age six.
I studied Spanish for two years in high school and two years after college. I lived a year and a half in Mexico, nine months in Ecuador and two months in Spain. Being bilingual is a skill in demand –and it can be achieved without a college degree.
Every business survives and thrives on its profitability. Any smart business will make adjustments to cater to a larger base of customers. Businesses would benefit from staffing more bilinguals, whether immigrant or native-born citizen. Some benefits are obvious, but there is at least one uncommon benefit — mental health.
If you are a business owner, I am sure that you want a healthier staff, especially your Gen X employees. As your employees become older, they are likely to have more health challenges.
Dementia is often overlooked, despite the significant effect it has on an employee’s work ability. Did you know that 47.5 million people suffer from dementia worldwide? The early onset of dementia can start as early as age 30, which may affect Millennials too.
Employees’ bilingualism benefits them mentally and increases their productivity in the workplace. Several research studies prove its validity.
- The American Academy of Neurology found that bilingualism delays dementia.
- A Penn State University study discovered that bilinguals are better at prioritizing tasks and working on multiple projects simultaneously.
- One Northwestern University study found that bilinguals process information more efficiently and easily than monolinguals.
- A study from the National Institute of Health discovered bilinguals often perform better on tasks that require conflict management.
- Another study found that knowing a foreign language reduces heuristic biases in decision making.
Many American universities offer undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in Spanish or French, but I did not pay a cent to study using Duolingo. After many months of using the web application, I now speak Spanish on an intermediate level.
Being bilingual is not only about speaking a second language. It is good for the employee’s health, as well as the health of the employer’s business. Employees endowed with objectivity and mental sharpness are viewed as assets to their employers. No employer wants to hire employees who will make their job harder. It goes against the reason they hired them.
Many employers buy job ads to hire bilingual employees. Before you spend more money on recruiting expenses, consider investing in your current staff. Why not give them an opportunity to learn a second language? You can take those funds reserved to purchase job ads and use it for your staff as a professional development cost.
You can make it easy and convenient for them. There are resources like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone and others. Also, consider giving them an incentive to commit to learning the second language.
You know there are other ways that bilinguals can benefit an employer. It is not always easy to replace great employees. So, take the opportunity to invest in them. It is good for their productivity, which ultimately makes it good for your business.
This article was originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine.
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