Six Suggestions for Marketable Language Skills
We live in an increasingly global society. In rural Afghanistan, sheepherders listen to Western music on used cell phones made in China and sold in the United States that they purchased from the closest village marketplace. In big cities in the West, meanwhile, it’s not too hard to walk into a restaurant that serves the type of cuisine normally found only in rural Afghanistan. The lines between cultures are no longer so distinct; cultures and nations have porous borders, leading products, customs, cuisines and languages to flow freely between them.
Knowing that the economy of the future will inevitably be global in its scope, which languages should you be studying now that will make you most attractive to employers in the future? In this article, we have six suggestions for languages that will be the most important in the future economy.
In the United States, Spanish is the most widely spoken language outside of English. Increasingly, and especially in parts of the country with high percentages of Spanish-speakers, employers are looking for people who are fluent or at least passable in Spanish. If you would like to work for the Border Patrol, for instance, you have to prove your proficiency in Spanish.
However, before you run to sign up for the next Spanish class at your college or university, consider that Forbes says that Spanish led to only a 1.7 percent wage premium. In other words, Spanish is so popular at colleges and universities — 52 percent of all students enrolled in foreign language classes are enrolled in Spanish classes — that the supply of Spanish speakers nearly outstrips the demand for them. Compared to other languages in this list, Spanish is easy to learn. Being proficient in Spanish can definitely help you get a job, but if you want to become bilingual in order to increase your job opportunities, learning Spanish might not be the best investment of your time.
2. Arabic, Farsi or Urdu
If you would like to get a job with the American government thanks to your language skills, you should choose from either Arabic, Farsi or Urdu.
Arabic is spoken in Iraq, many Middle Eastern countries and many North African countries. Given the amount of turmoil in these areas thanks to the Arab Spring movement that began in 2010, the United States government is spending a lot of time focusing on providing humanitarian aid, military support and diplomats to these areas.
Farsi, which is also referred to as Persian, is the primary language spoken in Iran. In addition to Iran, Farsi is spoken in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and other Central Asian nations. Urdu is the primary language spoken in Pakistan. It is also one of several languages spoken in India.
While it’s relatively easy to find Spanish speakers in the United States, finding speakers of any of the three languages listed above is very difficult. If you choose to specialize in one of these languages, you’re a shoe-in for a government job. Other languages from these same regions that the F.B.I. has specific needs for include Somali and Pashto.
3. Mandarin Chinese
China is the most populous nation in the world, and it’s rapidly working to catch up with the West to provide its citizens with the standard of living that Americans and other Westerners enjoy. Smelling business opportunities, companies from Apple to Zynga are thinking about how they might cash in on China’s enormous customer base.
Whether you want to work in the public sector or the private sector, learning Chinese is a very good decision. In the private sector, entrepreneurs and corporations need Chinese speakers to negotiate deals with savvy Chinese businesspeople. In the public sector, the United States government is constantly in conversation with the Chinese government on everything from the export deficit to ecological destruction.
Today, everyone advises people entering college for the first time to take up Mandarin Chinese. Two or three decades ago, they would have said, “Study Japanese.” Although Japan has fallen somewhat as one of the economic global powers, the nation remains important and the Land of the Rising Sun is likely to rise again. Japanese remains an important and marketable language.
The economic superpowers in the East are China and Japan; in Europe, the largest economy remains Germany. However, most Germans learn English beginning in grade school and most well-educated adult Germans are fluent in English. Knowing this, why would it be important to learn German if Germans already speak English?
The reason is that German is also an important language outside of Germany. Just as many Germans learn English because it is the lingua franca of the global economy, many Eastern Europeans and Russians learn German because it is the second most important language in Europe. Knowing German will open doors in Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Russia. For this reason, German remains a marketable language in business.
Although French is not a language that is likely to emerge in the future as extremely important in the way that Chinese is, it is nevertheless the third most important language in Europe and the second most important language in Canada. In addition to being spoken in Canada and Europe, French is also a relatively common language in Africa due to French colonization there during the 19th and 20th centuries.
These six language suggestions represent the most marketable languages for the present and for the future. Fluency in any of these languages will make it much easier to get a job in both the private sector and in the public sector.