Why It Pays to Be Bilingual


Put a few thousand business executives in a room and you likely won't find many with the same educational backgrounds, industry experience or job descriptions. But about two-thirds of executives do have one thing in common.

Thirty-one percent of executives speak two languages, according to a poll of 12,562 visitors to the Korn/Ferry International Web site. An additional 20 percent speak three languages, 9 percent speak four languages and 4 percent speak more than four.

Whether companies are conducting business overseas or trying to grab a larger market share at home, employers are increasingly seeking out bilingual workers, or people with the ability to speak and communicate in more than one language. In fact, a recent CareerBuilder.com keyword search turned up more than 6,000 job postings seeking bilingual applicants.

Employees who are bilingual in English and Spanish are particularly in demand. Latinos are now the nation's largest minority group, accounting for half of the nation's population growth since April 2001, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

This group brings big potential for profits. Hispanic buying power reached nearly $700 billion last year, according to estimates by HispanTelligence, a division of Hispanic Business, Inc. That buying power could reach as much as $1 trillion by 2010.

The need for bilingual workers is most pronounced in the South and West, where the concentration of non-English speaking residents is highest.

Benefits of being bilingual

To find and keep valuable bilingual workers, employers are willing to pay big. On average, bilingual pay differentials range between 5 and 20 percent per hour more than the position's base rate, according to Salary.com.

For example, government workers in California who hold bilingual positions earn an extra $.58 an hour, according to the state's Department of Personnel Administration Web site. In Washington County, Ore., employees in "bilingual positions" who spend 15-20 percent of their time in "regular and frequent use" of their bilingual skills earn an extra $30 per pay period.

Federal government employees may also see a sizable jump in bilingual pay under a provision of the 2005 Defense Authorization Act. According to the National Association for Bilingual Education, the law approves up to $1,000 in monthly proficiency pay for bilingual active-duty military personnel. Civilians may earn special pay up to 5 percent of their base salary.

The bottom line: Being bilingual literally pays off.

Want more money?

So you speak another language? Before you barge into your boss' office demanding extra pay, do your research. In some jobs, it's the position -- not the employee -- that's considered bilingual. That means if you are not required to use your bilingual skills for a significant portion of your job, you may not be entitled to differential pay.

Also be prepared to take a competency exam. You may be able to carry on a decent conversation in the language, but companies want to be sure you can fully and effectively communicate the business' policies and technical terms. The tests may be written or oral, and vary widely from employer to employer.

>>>Next: 10 Best Cities for Job Growth

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