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Clemente Writings

More Languages, More Money

With language diversity on the rise, we need certificate programs for adults and increased focus on languages in school to increase one’s value in the workforce.

Whenever I was in a position that I needed to find employment, I could always find something in my field of customer service in a short period of time. That changed when I moved to a new city. I found a job quickly and was there for a few years until I had to find something new. Now this took me almost a year because what I was seeing that I hadn’t really seen a lot of in my previous searches was “bilingual helpful but not necessary” in job posts.

I finally got a job in my field of reception, where I was able to shine, but unfortunately after about three years, I walked into work to find out the business had been sold and I was out of a job. This was over a year ago. What I saw early on in my searching was that the job post went from “bilingual helpful but not necessary” to “bilingual preferred.” As my search continued over the last year, I saw the “preferred” become “only.” It is incredibly frustrating to read through a post where you meet all the criteria the employer is looking for, only to see the dreaded “bilingual preferred” at the very end.

I vented my frustration to my uncle, who told me, “Learn Spanish.” I only vented more. “Why should I learn Spanish? I’m in America. Plus I’m already learning Mandarin.” To this, he replied, “You’re smart. Why can’t you learn both, as much other stuff as you’ve taught yourself?”

Initially upon writing this op-ed, I had a negative opinion of why I should have to learn a new language. After researching and giving thought to the subject, my opinion changed.

My uncle passed away recently and I really started taking his words to heart and decided to learn Spanish. So recently I downloaded some conversational audio to help me relearn and expand on what I previously learned, which is fine and good, but that takes time. And I certainly don’t have the money to take a class because well, I don’t have a job. And again, it takes time. I know I can learn the language. My uncle caringly reminded me of how very capable I am of anything I want to do. But it makes me think of people in similar situations. Not everyone wants to or is able to learn a language. Not because they aren’t smart, but because it just might be difficult for particular individuals.       

In fact, a 2014 study from MIT states that humans have two main memory systems that influence learning: declarative memory is the basic knowledge of things like facts and vocabulary, while procedural memory is when one learns without trying. It’s the way people learn habits and skills, like riding a bike. Much of the time, this kind of learning happens unconsciously. Children have the procedural system without the distraction of a declarative system, which takes more time to develop, and so they pick up grammar more quickly than adults do.

So what can one do?

I feel like if someone in my position is ineligible for employment because he or she lacks a multilingual background, there should be classes one could take that would allow them more pay at jobs that require multi-linguists. This would be similar to how one can receive more money to learn accounting and then earns more money. Some kind of certificate that certifies I learned a language to increase my skill set so I should receive a higher pay rate. As far as I’ve researched, I don’t believe anything like this exists. I think a program of this nature may be a motivation for others in my shoes.

This will undoubtedly open up an individual’s world exponentially. I also feel that jobs that require more than one language should also have a higher pay rate, otherwise having taken the time to learn the language seems a waste of time and effort.

The need to be multilingual is also important in the age of COVID-19, with more people working from home and more people from around the world connecting through video conferencing and apps.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a colleague of the great motivational speaker Jim Rohn:

“Think I’ll learn another language, make another million dollars.”         

I think this is a wise statement because it’s potentially true of anyone who is willing to learn more than one language. It opens doors to opportunities one may not have had speaking only one language. An idea or product that can be explained or expressed to someone in their native tongue can indeed increase one’s value socially and economically.

The most spoken languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese with 1.2 billion speakers, Spanish with 460 million and English with 380 million speakers.           

For those who are in school now, there should be an emphasis on these languages so that when they graduate they are not limited by language. This emphasis will open doors to opportunities one may not have had speaking only one language. An idea or product that can be explained or expressed to someone in their native tongue can indeed increase one’s value socially and economically.


We, Too, Are America is made possible through “Democracy and the Informed Citizen,” an initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Council through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

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