Importance of Bilingual Speakers in the Workplace

by | Feb 26, 2014

Spanish-speaking people make up the largest group of bilingual employees in the U.S.
The importance of having bilingual speakers in the workplace has grown as the number of people who speak languages other than English has increased. Businesses that take advantage of adding bilingual speakers to their payrolls can benefit extensively because of the larger market of clients and customers they can capture.
Population Growth
Over the past 30 years, the number of people who speak a language other than English has grown exponentially. Estimates place the percentage of this group at about 20 percent of the U.S. population. According to ORC Networks, the percentage of people who spoke non-English languages by 2007 had grown 140 percent, while the nation’s overall population grew by 34 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a 2010 Census brief that showed the Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010 and accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population increase of 27.3 million. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, or four times the nation’s 9.7 percent growth rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Potential Untapped Client Pool
Having bilingual speakers in the workplace can afford business owners the opportunity to reach a wider customer and client base. Bilingual speakers can serve as interpreters for potential and existing clients. For example, a U.S.-based business may have found it difficult to set up business relationships with customers or clients in foreign countries because of the language barrier. Bilingual speakers can bridge that gap. Furthermore, that bilingual speaker may even have some contacts in their home country who could be potential clients.
Positions Where Bilingual Speakers Are Most Important
While having a bilingual speaker on staff can be helpful to any business, there are certain businesses where it is particularly beneficial, including education and healthcare. To be better able to teach students who speak English as a second language, it is important that teachers and other educators, like counselors, are bilingual speakers. Medical practices should have a bilingual speaker on staff to communicate medical information clearly and accurately to patients, according to Marcia Layton Turner in “The Benefits of Being Bilingual” in Practice Link. Car dealerships can also benefit from having bilingual staff members because car salespeople must be able to effectively communicate the car sale to customers.
Training Existing Employees
In addition to hiring new employees who speak languages other than English, business owners should consider having their existing employees learn other languages. As incentives, an employer can offer to pay for the training or offer pay raises and bonuses to employees who pursue learning other languages.
If costs are a factor in covering the training, employers can encourage their employees to seek training at their own expense. Those other incentives could include time off and recognition awards, like certificates.

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