Staff Opinion: I'm learning another language, you should too

By Claire Desmarais | February 8, 2018 3:30pm

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Claire Desmarais
by Brennan Robinson / The Beacon

During an era when so many different people with different backgrounds work together, it’s necessary to learn a foreign language. 

In my hometown of Yakima, WA, about 48.3 percent of the population in the county is Hispanic or Latino, according to a 2015 U.S. census. This is due to the large agricultural industry, which consists of many Mexican immigrant workers

My family owns a hop farm in Yakima, WA, called CLS Farms, and employs many immigrant workers who speak only Spanish. For three summers, I worked in the hop, apple, and cherry fields and alongside some of those whose native language is Spanish and can only speak broken English.  

In order for my family’s farm to continue operating successfully, there must be someone who can translate information from English-only speakers to those who only understand Spanish. 

This is when knowing both English and Spanish would allow for clarity with daily operations. And it would also help break down the cultural division among employers and employees. Of course, the farm has individuals who can do this, but for other companies that do not have someone like this, it could hinder operations with employees or business with other companies. 

As a developing business professional, I want to have this skill of knowing more than one language to communicate with numerous individuals. Because Spanish is spoken in my hometown more than other languages and because about 37 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish, I’ve chosen to minor in Spanish to learn more about the culture and learn new ways to communicate with others. 

Things like which countries greet each other with a kiss, or which countries have a siesta, a nap in the afternoon typically taken after lunch, become apparent while studying the Spanish language. 

Though agriculture is one industry in which a foreign language would assist business operations, learning a foreign language improves your career success, communication skills, and makes you more aware of other cultures in fields such as social work, nursing, or other professions. It can help build better relationships by “breaking down barriers” to create more confidence and comfort for the employers, employees and consumers. 

Some professions, like social work or medicine, often encounter those who speak Spanish or French. Others, like engineering, encounter Asian language speakers more often. Depending on the profession you’re seeking, learning a specific language can increase the likelihood an employer would hire you. 

Learning a foreign language can also boost the level of pay for a job by as much as 33% depending on the industry and specific job. Many companies want a diverse group of employees who can communicate with a variety of individuals to make business more efficient. 

In our world, it is ignorant to think that we can simply use English for international business. In fact, Chinese, more specifically Mandarin, is the most spoken language in the entire world, with about 1.2 billion native speakers. English and Spanish follow with 360 million speakers and 400 million speakers, respectively. 

The world does not rely on one language for everything. By only knowing one language, you are limiting yourself from opportunities to further your knowledge, improve critical thinking skills, and to develop relationships.

Although employers will see you as a more viable candidate, learning a foreign language most importantly increases your cultural awareness. You cannot learn a foreign language without engaging with the culture it comes from. 

And even if it may be difficult to find resources for learning a new language, you can start small. There are thousands of online websites, like DuoLingo or Spanish Dictionary, to help learn basic skills and even dictionaries to begin learning new vocabulary. 

Though I would like to make myself a stand-out candidate for jobs, I more importantly want to have the ability to speak with individuals different than me. Due to the increasing number of international businesses, competitive job market, and lack of cultural awareness in the U.S., learning a foreign language is more important now than ever before. 

So when you are forced to take a foreign language to fulfill an elective credit for your major, think of it as a blessing that you have the opportunity to learn something new and experience a culture other than the one you know. 

As someone who is pursuing a Spanish minor, I have learned more about Spanish-speaking cultures than I could have ever imagined. I have spent much of my time researching Spanish-speaking countries, customs, and so much more while trying to learn the language. 

Claire Desmarais is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at desmarai20@up.edu. 

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