How much is a second language worth?

You probably already know that speaking a foreign language comes with great benefits

For example, a 2012 study famously found that people tend to judge a problem more rationally and limit decision-making biases when considering it in a second language. Moreover, it is a fact well known that bilingual brains can slow down dementia and brain ageing more effectively.

However, can we quantify such benefits in monetary terms? How much more money can speaking a foreign language help you make? 

Of course, one thing is saving travel money when choosing a non-touristy place to eat out and bargaining in a foreign language while on holiday, a whole different thing is finding out that a second language could be worth 10% more of what you’re making now

Keep reading, we’re going to break down the math for you.

Is it worth learning a foreign language?

Are languages worth it? From a community point of few, Yes, languages can make a big difference

Professor James Foreman-Peck from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills at Cardiff University found that the UK poor performance in learning and speaking foreign languages is costing the national economy around £48 billion a year

Boosting the GDP by 3.5% could be as simple as giving students better opportunities to excel at their Spanish A level and French GCSE papers. However, decision-makers seem to think differently and languages stopped being compulsory at GCSE in 2004. By 2009, the number of students taking a language GCSE had dropped by 34%.

Since we’re not all lawmakers, though, most adult learners are concerned about what difference can a second language make in their salary. If you’re considering investing in your career by taking foreign language classes, then, you may wonder what the benefits are on a more personal level.

Foreign languages for your career

You may be happy to hear that in fields like sales, marketing, and technical support, experts estimate that additional languages may raise your paycheck by 10 or even 15%

And that’s without taking into account that languages may open the doors of foreign job markets and give you the chance to find work in countries with much higher wages

Moreover, knowing languages as a business owner can help you break into new markets while saving a considerable amount of money on translation services. 

However, it’s true that there are plenty of professions where language skills just aren’t necessary. A conservative estimate by MIT economist Alber Saiz reports that the earning bonus for the average American learning a new language amounts to a more modest 2%.

The Economist did the math for us and calculated that the accumulated savings on that bonus over 40 years can turn into a juicy extra $67,000 in the retirement account of a graduate who started their career at an average salary of $45,000 p/y.

What are the most profitable languages to learn?

Different language degrees bring different benefits. It is important to consider your specific circumstances and context when choosing what language to study. 

In the US, for example, a Spanish degree is worth slightly less than a French degree because of the higher offer of Spanish speakers. On the other hand, German is one of the most profitable languages to learn because Germany is a European powerhouse with great importance on the international trade market.

Once again, The Economist puts it in a way that’s easy to understand. That Spanish GCSE you’re thinking about? It may get you an extra 50 thousand euros. French A levels? An extra 75k.

Most importantly though, the industry in which you’d like to work or already operate will make the greatest difference for you.

Most importantly though, the industry in which you’d like to work or already operate will make the greatest difference for you.

Most in-demand languages for jobs in the UK

A quick research on job platform sites allows us to get an idea of what the most in-demand languages are in the UK. 

Websites like reed.co.uk post thousands of new jobs every day. Currently, over 15% of job ads on the platform feature at least one foreign language among their requirements.

Again, it is important to first consider your field of choice. The most in-demand languages for government jobs may not be the same as those required in banking or customer support. 

French, for example, is considered the language of diplomacy. International organisations like the UN and the EU, as well as foreign affairs departments around the world, ask their employees to speak it fluently. So if you’re planning on a UN internship after your studies, you may want to make sure to ace your French A levels first. 

If, on the other hand, you want to make language skills the centre of your career by becoming a professional translator or intepreter, you may want to look into languages that are in high demand but where the offer is scarce. Mandarin and Arabic are less popular than Spanish and Italian among students, but translators are highly valued especially in the finance sector. 

Foreign language careers in high demand

Let’s go back to our job marketplace analysis. Here’s an idea of what languages are most valuable for UK employers right now:

  • German. Germany is Europe’s largest economy. 24% of vacancies on Reed feature German as a requirement.
  • French. 20% of positions currently recruiting only accept candidates that have French on their resume.
  • Spanish. Are you fluent in Spanish? 10% of companies that recruit online on Reed are looking for you.
  • Italian. Unlike Spanish, Italian isn’t the official language of a large number of countries. Yet, it’s the 4th most studied language in the world. 7% of jobs advertised on Reed require it.
  • Mandarin. Your efforts in learning this difficult language will be repaid once you’ll have access to the 3% of opportunities that are only available to Mandarin speakers. 

Data: reed.co.uk

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