The business benefits of being bilingual

September 6, 2017
The business benefits of being bilingual

Those of us working in the professional translation sector already have a pretty keen insight into some of the business benefits of being bilingual. After all, it’s our linguistic ability that enables us to make a living doing something that we enjoy – translating. However, it’s not just translators who benefit from being able to speak two languages…

Bilingualism and the brain

Research has already shown that being bilingual has a substantial effect on the human brain. It essentially rewires some of the brain’s networks in order to give the speaker access to two languages at once. Other cognitive functions are affected too – bilinguals enjoy improved problem solving and planning skills, reasoning and working memory, among other executive functions. Put very simply, their brains process certain tasks faster than the brains of monolinguals. 

One interesting brain function where bilinguals have this advantage is inhibitory control. This executive function refers to an individual’s ability to filter out irrelevant stimuli. This means that bilinguals can take more measured responses to events, as they’re better positioned to judge what is relevant to their decision making and what is not. 

Networking

When it comes to business, who you know can be incredibly important. If you speak more than one language, you broaden the field of those you are able to network with. Whether you’re making business contacts online through sites like LinkedIn, or making them in person, the fact that you are able to network more widely means that you increase your chances of being useful to the company you work for. 

You never know when a second language may come in handy in the workplace. It feels like technology is making our world ever smaller. Connections and partnerships with companies overseas can open up new markets and cut production costs. If you speak more than one language, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll find yourself on an exciting international project than one of your monolingual colleagues. 

Business bilinguals

A number of high profile businesspeople have shown how advantageous it can be to be bilingual in a competitive and fast-paced working environment. Mark Zuckerberg, while learning Mandarin primarily to communicate with certain members of his wife’s family, has already used his linguistic abilities to curry favour with audiences in Beijing. China remains a huge, untapped market for Facebook, as Zuckerberg no doubt recalls each time he carries out his daily Mandarin studies. 

Another tech giant who has used language as part of his rise in the business world is Jan Koum, Co-founder of WhatsApp. Speaking both English and Russian fluently, as well as travelling around South America for a year and becoming frustrated with existing communication tools, paved the way for Koum to help found the successful messaging app, which now has more than 1 billion daily users. WhatsApp is available in more than 60 languages, thanks in part to the global outlook that Koum’s bilingualism fed into. 

In the sporting world, speaking more than one language has played a huge role in the career of football manager Arsene Wenger. Wenger speaks not just two languages but six –English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. The manager has used language as a way to bond with those who play for him over the years and is a key advocate of the role of multilingualism and the value of language-learning in schools. He even received an accolade for his linguistic work back in 2013, when he was voted Britain’s first ever public language champion. 

Then of course there are those bilinguals who take the entertainment world by storm. Jennifer Lopez is the prime example. The Hispanic American actress and singer has used her language skills to have hit records in both English and Spanish, as well as showing off her linguistic abilities on the silver screen. For Lopez, being bilingual has enabled her to engage vast audiences that she would otherwise have been unlikely to reach. 

Final thoughts

How do you use your bilingual skills to boost your career, other than through the provision of professional translation services? Has being bilingual opened up opportunities that would have been denied to your monolingual colleagues? Leave a comment to share your experiences. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.

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