Habla usted …Sprechen sie…Parlez-vous..?
Years ago, I applied for an exciting summer job that required more than one language. I assumed that because I was bilingual and met the requirements, I would automatically qualify, but I had to really fight for it. When I started my contract I was quite intimidated to find out how multi-lingual everyone was.
One of my co-workers who was of Polish descent spoke nine languages. Needless to say, a number of us who had gathered around him decided to put him to task and we were more than impressed. He flipped from one language to the next, without faltering. We all had French and English as a common denominator, and in many cases some had two or three other languages, but we were utterly amazed by this walking computer! His personality even seemed to change from one language to the next.
According to the DANA Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research, more people on this planet are bilingual or multilingual, than unilingual. Such is the case in our major cities. Many new immigrants to our country speak to their children in their native language(s) and enroll them in the public school system where they quickly pick up English and French. At an early age they are trilingual. Can you imagine the doors that will open for these children when they finish their studies and start looking for a job?
Toronto has embraced more than 100 different cultures, all with their own language. If you check any Parks and Recreation community guide, you will notice that they offer a translation of the booklet in at least 15 other languages. Chinese has been ranked the fastest growing language in Canada. Many schools offer Mandarin instruction as an option because of the interest and demand.
The benefits of being multi-lingual are numerous: job opportunities, career advancement, greater salaries, travel opportunities and simply different cultural experiences!
It is not uncommon to find oneself feeling and acting quite differently when speaking a foreign language. The culture of that language permeates us. One‘s eyes are opened to another world. This can only be beneficial to everyone as it promotes tolerance and understanding. Being bilingual is no longer enough. Communication is what connects and binds us, and understanding what others believe and say and the ability to express ourselves becomes more crucial especially in business and working relationships. Drive through the various business parks and see foreign investment at work. People are coming to visit and business is expanding.
Companies are answering their phones in more than one language, creating websites and publishing newsletters and articles in the language of current and potential clients. These tasks require multilingual staff. It is a great advantage for a company to have one or more people on staff to service clients in their own language. It is greatly appreciated by the end client and greatly assists that company in developing more business.
In the meetings and events industry, the need for multilingualism is even greater during national and international events, such as congresses, incentive programs, road shows, etc. If we are to service clients in their own language, it will be the companies offering services in several languages that will stand out. Imagine if you had staff who could converse with clients in Mandarin, French, German, Spanish, Arab, Hindi … what an impact that would make!
According to recent press, there is a possibility that we will one day be wearing transmitters that will simultaneously translate foreign languages into our own, thus eliminating the need to learn to speak them fluently, but it might not be here as quickly as we think, or affordable, so we need to brush up on those language skills or learn a new one. Skilled multilinguals definitely have an edge.