Foreign travel used to be considered exotic, a luxury that only rich people could afford. But now, even with fuel prices skyrocketing, foreign business travel is practically a given. Why? Because no country is autonomous anymore when it comes to the economy. On the contrary, the needs of the global economy make it more imperative than ever that we all be able to communicate with each other. And the best way to ensure that is to learn at least one foreign language during college, regardless of your major.

According to the organization Abroad View (a non-profit that encourages intercultural and global citizenship development) the top industries that give hiring preference to bilingual applicants are those in business, government, teaching, translation, tourism, and any service-oriented department in healthcare, social work, library sciences, and law enforcement. Even if you plan to start your own business, chances are at some point you’ll have to deal with foreign suppliers or travel to a conference or trade show in a foreign country. And if you ever plan to take your company public, knowing how to communicate directly with the outside world opens doors to more investors.

So what should you learn? The top two foreign languages right now are Spanish and Chinese, however, Arabic (all dialects) and Hindi are becoming increasing valuable to know as well. French, Russian, and Portuguese round out the top 10.

So if all that doesn’t convince you to get at least two years of a foreign language under your belt BEFORE your graduate from college (and that’s in addition to any foreign language classes you might have had in high school) here are four specific reasons why you want to become at least bilingual (preferably multilingual) before you officially start your career.

  1. Stronger Foreign Markets
  2. Last year 10 percent of the American companies that went public did so in foreign countries. While the U.S. economy limps along to a slow recovery, innovative entrepreneurs are not going to wait for the dollar to catch up. Even though large companies like LinkedIn and Groupon were able to expand locally, American small businesses were forced to turn to countries with stronger stock markets (such as Australia, Great Britain, Taiwan, South Korea and Canada) for investment capital. Also more businesses (corporate large and family small) are turning to India and South America for services and manufacturing.

  3. Better Presentation Skills
  4. Throughout your career you will probably have to make (at least) a few presentations to non-English speaking audiences. If the point of your presentation is to sell something or request a joint business venture you’ll have a better chance of success if you give your presentation in the language of your audience. Even if you appear to stumble along, your audience will be impressed that you made the effort, which ultimately could give you the edge over your competition.

    Plus, more non-English speakers are coming to the U.S. to work or expand businesses of their own. And I’m not talking about illegal immigrants, which regardless of what you hear in sensationalized media commentary, make up only a very small portion of the U.S. workforce. So if you want to communicate with ALL U.S. business owners, you’ll have more success if you are multilingual.

  5. Greater ROI
  6. According to the U.S. Travel Association companies that invest in worldwide business travel have a greater ROI (return on investment) than those that cut their travel budgets to save money. As of 2009 (which is the latest data to date) Oxford Economics USA reports that for every dollar a company invests in business travel the company gains $12.50 in incremental revenue and $3.80 in profits. Proving that even in a world of Skype and IMs face-to-face meetings are still more profitable. So if you’re going overseas to close a deal, you’d better know how to sell your product in your hosting country’s native language.

  7. Online Education Makes it Easy
  8. Now more than ever there are opportunities to learn a foreign language through online education. Just about every major college and university offers a beginning foreign language program online, or you can choose from a myriad of free online education foreign language options, depending on your level of study and which language you want to learn. (If you want college credit, however, you will have to take your online foreign language class from an accredited school.)

Learning a foreign language in college used to be one of those things you did to fill an elective. Now in many degree programs (like International Business) it’s a requirement. But even if it isn’t it would benefit you greatly to find a way to fit it in. Just think how nice it would feel to be able to say “Thanks for using our products” in the language of six countries in which you do business.

Get free information about schools that provide foreign language courses!

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