When the Chamber of Commerce describes Charlotte as an “international city,” it’s not kidding. With 951 foreign-owned firms in the Charlotte area and more than 68,000 people working for them, it’s clear that international companies mean big business to the local economy.¹
In this kind of economic landscape, having foreign language skills may be more valuable than you realize. Forget any preconceived notions that only certain languages are “worth” studying or that language skills lead to a handful of specific career tracks. There’s a whole world of opportunity waiting for those who can “talk the talk.” In fact, more than 46 different countries are represented by the various companies, large and small, that call Charlotte home.²
Working on the frontline with non-English speakers
Some companies specifically seek job candidates with foreign language skills to work with a non-English speaking public. For employees in a customer service role, it’s easy to see how foreign language skills can come in handy. Consider call centers, jobs in retail or in a medical office, for example: employees who can communicate with customers or patients in their own language can really put them at ease. The American Community Survey (ACS) estimates that more than 19% of the Charlotte metro population (ages 5 and up) speaks a language other than English at home.³ There is certainly a niche for foreign language speakers who could serve this sizable demographic.
“When you have equally qualified people and you have that extra [language] skill, it’s a bonus,” says Dr. Connie Johnston, a career counselor at Central Piedmont Community College.
For Highly Skilled Professionals
The same holds true for those seeking advanced professional opportunities, where speaking a foreign language can “enhance a broader skill set,” says Dr. Johnston. For example, an immigration lawyer who speaks a foreign language could really benefit from this extra ability in attracting clients as well as in his day-to-day business. The same can be true for doctors, engineers and other highly skilled professionals. The ability to communicate in another language helps “break down some barriers [and] make somebody feel welcome” says Dr. Johnston.
“As an employee of a French company that also has an office in Montreal it’s helpful to be able to read and speak French,” says Robin Blackwell, Assistant Vice President, Contracts, at SCOR Global Life Americas. “Not only does it increase your ability to communicate with fellow employees – many of our clients speak, send emails and conduct business using French.”
Advancing Your Career, here or abroad
Speaking a foreign language can open the door to other potential opportunities in Charlotte and beyond. If you’ve ever dreamed of moving abroad, finding a job with an international firm could be step #1 in the process. And while speaking that foreign language may seem like a nice added skill in the US, it would likely be a requirement abroad.
“Learning the language not only improves your ability to communicate, it helps you better understand the culture” says Blackwell, who has studied French at The Language Academy of the Carolinas as well as in Montpellier, France. “That understanding can be beneficial to efforts to advance your career.”
Why it’s more than just the words you know
The ability to speak another language can indicate other personal qualities to employers, says Dr. Johnston, who has also worked in corporate human resources. It suggests that you have a broader world view, that you’re good at learning new things and meeting challenges. This can be the case even if the language you speak isn’t directly used in your job or if you’re not 100% fluent.
For this reason, she always recommends that people include their language skills on their resumes – even if there doesn’t seem to be a direct link between that language and the position they are seeking. You just never know when those skills could come in handy. As a case in point, she laughs adding that “students who have German names are flabbergasted when I pronounce their names right.”
Who could have guessed those college German classes would pay off years later?
¹Charlotte’s Foreign Firms, An International Review, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, 2014
³LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME, 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.
Liz Rothaus Bertrand teaches French at The Language Academy of the Carolinas, Charlotte’s premiere language services company. The Language Academy offers small group classes in English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese & Spanish; translation services; organizes trips abroad and more.