Loaded Language — The Bilingual Debate

Photo by Bobby Hidy on Flickr, cropped

There’s nothing that sets tongues a-waggin’ quite like the bilingual debate. If the Google News alerts that arrive daily in the Yappn Editorial Department inbox mean anything, the biggest needs in any country around the world with more than two or three non-main-language-speakers (i.e., everywhere) are twofold. The first is the growing need for companies to have bilingual speakers in any capacity, and the second is someone to manage the peace process between those who believe “Our default language only!” (Let’s pretend it’s Klingon) versus those who favour a bilingual approach.

Just the headlines in the Google News Alerts we receive for “bilingual” make it clear that language preference engenders strong personal feelings:

  • Tesco comes under fire over number of bilingual signs (Cambrian News)
  • Quebec coroner website in French only (The Suburban Newspaper)
  • The consequences of bilingual employment policies (Journalist’s Resource)
  • Aberystwyth Marks and Spencer ‘Foodhall’ sign sparks Welsh language row (Daily Post North Wales)
  • Carina MacLeod is Scotland’s only bilingual Gaelic comedian and she’s talking to us ahead of the Glasgow Comedy Festival (Glasgow Live)
  • [Canadian political candidate] blasted for avoiding bilingual debate in Edmonton

Each “bilingual” news alert, in addition to the top stories, includes for bilingual specialists in healthcare, education, real estate, government, non-profit and retail along with probably the most common job description: Bilingual customer support/care/service representative.

Related: Chat Support For Everyone Else: Go Multilingual!

It’s like seeing parallel worlds through two semi-transparent overlaps: One group of people calling for the eradication or at least public demotion of a language other than Klingon, and another group oblivious to the first, desperate to hire anyone who’s fluent in Vulcan, Romulan, or Ferengi.

Even scientists, linguists and anthropologists argue about the benefits — or not — of bilingualism. Debates rage whether bilingualism really does make children smarter or whether it helps prevent Alzheimer’s or whether it’s a necessary skill for global masters of the universe. Even Canada, with two official languages, can’t stop arguing the bilingual issue.

The debate seems fairly irrelevant in a global marketplace where bilingual demand currently exceeds supply. Whether your organization is globalized and localized or not, whether you sell nationally or locally, one thing is clear: However much you love Klingon, speaking one or more other languages is where the future jobs will be, because the Ferengis, Vulcans and Romulans all live right here as well as over there.

It’s simple economics. That’s where the money is.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Jobs for interpretation and translation are expected to grow 29% by 2024
  • Highest demand for languages will be French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Russian
  • There will be growing demand for Arabic and related languages along with Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hindi, fueled by emerging markets
  • A bachelor’s degree will be desired but more critical is native fluency in another language

Related: Multiple Languages Critical for the Global CEO

Related: People who speak other languages make the best employees for one big reason

“U.S. immigrants who were fluent in English earned 20 to 30 percent more than those who were non-fluent,” according to a study detailed in the book Immigrant Education: Variations by Generation, Age-at-Immigration, and Country of Origin by Noyna DebBurman. Inside the U.S. Government, one of the most sought-after bilingual skills is Arabic, to assist in working through the complexities of Middle Eastern political, economic and military challenges. Bilingualism is even more critical for the polyglot European Union.

Three of the top U.S. firms seeking bilingual employees in 2015 were Bank of America, H&R Block and Humana. Despite the current global debate about immigration — who to allow in and how many — immigration continues to drive growth in the U.S. working-age population. It also accounts for two-thirds of Canada’s population growth since 2011 and is expected to add regional growth of 0.2 to 0.3 percent of the European Union GDP by 2020.

The debate over teaching foreign languages becomes less of a question of ‘whether’ and more of a ‘when, where and how’. Not to mention “Which one will I study?”


This originally appeared on the blog Yappn About.

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Written by Nicole Chardenet, Sales Development Rep at Yappn