The message from an Italian-born developmental linguistics professor is clear: “Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better inter-cultural sensitivity, and are better at co-operating, negotiating and compromising. But they can also think more efficiently.”
Now that’s certainly a ringing endorsement for multilingualism at work from a recent article in the Financial Times; but are multilingual speakers really such an invaluable asset for UK businesses?
The big multinationals seem to think so…
Recent research into some of the UK’s leading multinational companies has revealed just how important language skills are to their continued operations. The management consultancy McKinsey can boast more than 130 different languages across its workforce, and is even willing to offer bursaries to those who want to learn another language before joining the company.
Unilever, the Dutch-British consumer goods company, estimates that around 80 percent of the group’s senior leaders speak at least two languages. While the financial services company Standard Chartered actively seeks bilinguals for its graduate training scheme.
…But what are the benefits?
The UK’s biggest companies are clearly convinced of the benefits of hiring bilinguals, but there’s also plenty of research that highlights the advantages language learners can bring.
Research has shown that bilinguals have an enhanced awareness of other people’s points of view, which stems from their deeper understanding that other people have a different perspective.
There is also evidence to show that employees with two or more languages are better at concentrating on the specific features of a problem and ignoring any misleading elements. Thy can also switch more seamlessly between tasks.
The multinationals are not so keen to hire bilinguals simply for the cognitive benefits – there are also plenty of practical benefits of appointing foreign language speakers for businesses exporting products and services overseas, making bilinguals a vital asset in global business environments.
The truth about bilingualism
- Early exposure to two languages does not disadvantage children and can bring benefits. The cognitive benefits last from childhood through to old age.
- You do not have to speak two languages in a perfectly balanced way to be bilingual. Bilinguals are simply people who know, and frequently use, more than one language.
- In terms of the cognitive benefits, no language is more or less useful than another. The benefit comes from having the knowledge of more than one language in the brain.
- The earlier you start, the better it is for developing the cognitive ability; however, the proficiency and the number of languages you learn is more important than the age you start.
Clearly, multinationals with bases around the world have an advantage over smaller companies when it comes to the recruitment of bilinguals, but at Linguistica Recruitment, we plan to redress that balance.
We work with small and medium-sized businesses across the South coast, helping them recruit the bilingual employees they need to succeed on the domestic and global stage. To learn more about how we can help your business fill a bilingual skills gap, please get in touch today.