I’ve been living in France for two years now and during this time, I’ve had the chance to look at the job listings and speak with a few career coaches and recruiters about the international job market. More than anything, speaking three languages is the key to career success on the international level.
In America, speaking two languages is quite impressive. It’s not a necessary skill to have on the resume, but speaking Spanish certainly helps boost career opportunities in government settings and in cities with high concentrations of latinos like San Diego, Miami, L.A., and New York City. When I got to Europe, I was surprised how just the ability to speak three languages can cut off years of experience necessary to get a job.
Two close family friends are retired pharmaceutical executives who worked in Switzerland for over thirty years who each speak multiple langauges. As I interviewed them on the European job market for a client who was interested in pursuing corporate pharmaceutical sciences on the international level, the subject of language came up. I was told that a young professional who can easily speak three languages or more languages will be given priority over someone with twice the experience and can only speak one or two languages.
The reason for this hiring logic is because it’s not unusual for the average person, certainly those with bachelors and masters degrees, to speak two languages in Europe. Speaking three languages provides the ability to connect markets and understand cultural nuances that can often go undetected. People who speak three languages can easily pick up the experience on the job, whereas learning the language can take more of the company’s time and resources. While large companies in France offer language training as a part of the perks, such services are expensive and many professionals lack the motivation to pick up another language as a part of their busy work day.
I’ve met young professionals with practically zero work experience who found jobs that pay an equivalent of over $50,000 a year simply because they speak three languages. That’s often a double or triple in salary by just being able to speak an additional language.
Selecting what languages to speak greatly depends on location and industry. For example, someone who wants to work in banking in Zurich, Switzerland will want to speak English, German, and French because of it’s proximity to France and Germany (and Zurich being based in German culture) and English being the international language of business. Someone who wants to do communications in Geneva, Switzerland will want to speak English, French, and Italian because of its proximity to Italy and France as well as Geneva being part of the French speaking, Catholic canton. Someone who wants to work in international government will most likely want to speak English, French, and the language of the subject matter they’ve studied as someone who practices Russian or Chinese affairs will want to speak the two official languages of the United Nations: English and French.
Corporate recruiters based in Geneva, Switzerland told me that three languages in addition to a European passport from a European Union member country would guarantee a job anywhere with an acceptable minimum level of professional experience or education. Those who speak just one language have a much harder time than anyone else, despite the cumulative years of work experience compared to their competitors.
The only one exception I found surprising was when my brother and I interviewed a human resources manager for Ubisoft, a developer, producer, and distributor of electronic entertainment. As long as a computer science/engineering major with a master’s degree can understand computer software programming languages such as C++, Unix, html, etc, then they do not need to know any other languages; English helps, but is not necessary. However, programming languages do count as languages as they have their own syntax, grammar, and functions and there are hundreds of them.
Upon realizing the importance and value of speaking three languages, I began studying Italian, which is quite easy to learn if one has a comfortable command of French. As my Italian friends tell me, if one learns French, they can easily learn Italian which can help them easily learn Spanish. Mr. Juvin began studying Japanese in his spare time as much of his work involves working with Japanese developers and markets.
If you’re looking for a job on the international level, make it a goal to at least converse comfortably in three languages. Just because English is a main business language, this does not automatically imply that companies will be selling or serving an exclusively anglophone market of consumers and clientele. The benefits of speaking three languages extends far beyond professional and career advantages, it can open up social opportunities and expand cultural understandings of politics, leisure, and popular culture.
How many languages do you speak? Are you working on a third? Share your language experiences here!