The Business Benefits of Being Multilingual

Teacher teaching different languages

Only 20 percent of Americans are bilingual in two or more languages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compare this with 56 percent of Europeans.

But being fluent in more than one language can bring unexpected business opportunities. It can improve your competitiveness in the job market, and ultimately help you make more money.

Being multilingual has a business plus for Michelle Diamond, an African-American female entrepreneur who speaks Spanish and is in the process of learning French. She has a goal of learning to speak five languages. “This has helped me in business by enabling me to be a differentiator and stand out (especially for my global clients). Knowing how to speak another language is not only a preferred skill set, but shows I am open to different cultures, which is important for business,” Diamond tells Diamond is CEO and founder of Elevate Diamond Strategy, a Beverly Hills-based boutique growth strategy and execution independent advisory and interim executive firm

Diamond also says being multilingual helps her to connect with clients on a different level. “I use my multi-lingual skills when necessary or as an added way to connect with clients/ clients’ employees when working on projects,” she adds. “Clients not only hire me for my business expertise, but for my relationship skills and ability to work with many people from different backgrounds, in order to get work done effectively. Knowing another language helps to do that.”

Having knowledge of more than one language will help you take advantage of globalization, explains business and media coach Pam Perry. “Opportunities today are global. The Internet has made our world smaller and we can communicate with people from different countries, with different languages with a click of a button or a skype call. The more you learn, the more you will earn,” says Perry. “It’s a competitive advantage in this global marketplace. Especially today if you speak/talk Chinese, you can write your ticket.”

And if you have multiple languages up your sleeves, make sure to market these talents. “I would go on FIVERR and connect with those in my field, especially if I were a ‘creative.’ Communicating with those from using FIVERR overseas is the best way to know if you’re ready to do business. I would also join groups on Linkedin such as Supplier Diversity Groups and Supply Chain Management groups.  Linkedin is the professional network of choice for me because it’s more verifiable,” advises Perry.

You should also make sure your employer knows of your language skill. It could make you a standout in the company.

Phil Dawit is the managing principal of the Kassa Trade Organization, an international apparel manufacturing startup with business operations in the USA, Peru, and Bahrain. Dawit speaks four languages — English, Amharic, Arabic, and Spanish — and it has been a plus for him and his firm.

“Many people in the world do not speak English. Some people make the ignorant assumption that knowledge of the English language is correlated to intelligence. The world is filled with outstanding minds who have no English language knowledge,” Dawit points out. “Knowing foreign languages and understanding foreign cultures has allowed me to set up business operations and partnerships in other countries. This has directly affected the growth of my company.”

Dawit, who uses his multi language skills to discuss objectives, agreements, and issues with my international partners.

Dawit picked up language along the way, teaching himself. “I lived in an Ethiopian household but had no command of the Amharic language. I used YouTube, apps,and books to learn the language,” he explains. “I learned Spanish because I grew up in a neighborhood where the El Salvadoran and Honduran population made up most of the residents. Many of the local businesses in the area operated in Spanish, and few of the employees at the time could speak English. I picked up Spanish out of necessity to integrate into my community.”

But he did learn Arabic in a classroom setting. “Currently, I am sponsored by the Omani Embassy to better my fluency through their Arabic language program within their Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center,” he adds.

Being multilingual, he says, has opened up many business doors.

“When you speak only English, you are limited to opportunities in a limited number of countries. When you acquire language skills, it connects you to new people, communities and nations. Currently, my skills have allowed me to do business overseas and I know that without my language skills, I would never have been able to establish my current foreign operations,” Dawit shares.

For Ivory Coats, founder of Mean Coffee Mugs, being fluent in Spanish helps her reach new cliente. “The Latino market here in America is severely under-served. And it allows me to tap into this market,” says Coats, who taught herself Spanish three years ago.

Being bi-lingual has helped her create new products. “While the language is different we are all minorities and have commonalities that link us together. I find the Latino community welcoming and friendly and I have learned a ton from my interactions. I have collaborations with some Latino influencers and my funny coffee mug line,” she says.