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When you consider your safety, you likely think of your physical well-being, but you might also consider your financial well-being. American’s economic prosperity directly impacts our daily lives—our ability to put food on the table, make the next mortgage payment, or pay school tuition. In an increasingly globalized economy, our country’s collective prosperity hinges more and more on our nation’s language capacity.
The global economy is slowly but steadily trending away from the traditional English-speaking powerhouses. Economists predict that China’s economy will surpass America’s during our lifetime, while markets in Brazil, India, and beyond continue to expand. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, exports accounted for half of post-recession U.S. economic growth, and “future U.S. growth will increasingly depend on selling U.S. goods and services to foreign consumers who do not necessarily speak English.”
These “goods” range from architecture to insurance to mobile technology, meaning language skills complement nearly every industry, not just the obvious ones. As noted in the Boston Globe, “banks and cellphone providers are hiring employees who can communicate with potential customers in their native tongues. Software firms are seeking out translators and customer service representatives who can help them build their business around the world. And health care providers looking to serve the immigrants in their communities, as well as patients traveling to the United States for medical care, are beefing up their staffs with people who can understand, and convey, their concerns.”
Language and cultural competency are in demand not just in large, diverse cities like New York or Miami, either. It seems the entire country is seeking a bilingual workforce; the number of online job listings “targeting bilingual workers more than doubled nationwide between 2010 and 2015, rising 162 percent, according to a new report by New American Economy.” In Colorado alone, job postings seeking bilingual candidates doubled between 2011 and 2014, for example. States like Utah and Montana are responding to the demand, expanding bilingual education programs to make citizens more attractive to big employers.
That foresight will pay dividends for American businesses, who risk falling behind or missing out on new markets because of language barriers. In 2011, Forbes Insights surveyed more than 100 executives at large U.S. businesses. 65% of companies surveyed faced language barriers that contributed to “inefficiency, ineffective collaboration and low productivity.” What is more, 75% of respondents agreed that it was easier for foreigners to work in the US than vice versa because of their lack of language skills. This leaves American workers at a huge disadvantage, particularly since nine in ten of those executives surveyed also agreed that companies cannot compete without “world-class managers worldwide.”
Other studies corroborate these claims. A 2014 NAFSA: Association of International Educators study revealed that almost 30% of executives say they’ve “missed out on opportunities over a lack of on-staff language skills.” Upwards of 40% said language barriers prevented them from reaching their “international potential”.
Whether it’s in a classroom, at a library, online, or in a professional development program, it’s in America’s interest—it’s economic security—to invest in language skills and tap it’s “international potential.” The Council on Foreign Relations calls it what it is: “the promotion of foreign language instruction should be a national priority. In an increasingly competitive international economy, a workforce with more market-relevant foreign language skills is a strategic economic asset for the United States.”