Sure, people who speak more than one language have an advantage in the job market. Of course, how much of an advantage that is depends a lot on the specific industry, company, job and location we’re talking about. But is it worthwhile or practical to study a foreign language just to get a job?
I decided it was time to learn another language. This time, just for fun. So I recently started taking classes through the extension of a local university. On the first day, the teacher had us, the students, do an exercise where we were encouraged to name our top three reasons for starting to learn the language. The overwhelming reason was to travel to a country where that language was spoken. In second place was being more attractive in the job market. Less popular reasons included: continuing education, having fun, watching movies, reading books and following the news.
While living abroad in the past, I met a number of locals and foreigners who professed that their primary incentive for language learning was improving their job prospects. The problem I noticed was that if the person didn’t have additional reasons for learning, their motivation didn’t seem to be sufficient to make effective language learning possible. They didn’t seem to care enough or put in the time that their multiply motivated peers did; they simply went through the motions to pad their resume.
Language learning requires hours, weeks and years of dedication. There’s no instant pill or powder. So my question is: Is it realistic to expect people to slog through years of language study for a job that may or may not require use of that language? (I knew some people who had jobs that on paper required foreign-language skills, but once they were hired, those skills were never asked for or mentioned again.) Should we let foreign-language study slide if only jobs are concerned? Or should we focus on expanding the reasons for studying foreign languages?
What do you think?