Economically-minded language learners are always considering cost versus benefit.
Actually, pretty much all language learners wonder about this.
Especially when we get frustrated with the more challenging aspects of language learning.
In the middle of conjugating some pesky Spanish verbs, a learner might well ask himself, “why am I doing this to myself?”
He asks, “what good will learning Spanish do me?”
“Will speaking it make my life any better?”
“Will it win me a Nobel Peace Prize?”
Here come the answers.
In this post, we’ll focus on the economic benefits of learning Spanish. There’s a whole world of economic advantages brought about by the fact that you know the answer to “¿qué tal?”
Sure, you’ve known for a long time that learning the language drastically improves your employment prospects and increases your earning potential. But do you know exactly what the numbers are and how these economic benefits come about?
Well, you’re about to find out.
So hold on to your seats because this rollercoaster ride has more surprising twists and turns than your mama’s telenovelas.
The 5 Game-changing Economic Benefits of Learning Spanish
1. Spanish Widens Economic Horizons and Personal Potential
Spanish not only gives you more ways of saying “hi,” it opens you up to a world of almost half a billion people (470 million speakers) who have different ways of thinking and go about looking at situations and experiencing the world in different ways.
This single fact alone, that you’ll be opening your mind to the possibility that your culture isn’t the only one doing awesome things, is enough motivation to learn Spanish.
But the thing is, Spanish not only frees you from your biases and promotes openness, it opens doors that’ll ultimately fatten up your wallet.
The Advantages Start Early
If you think learning a new language pays off only when you get into the labor force and start working, you’d be wrong. The pay-offs start early—even when you’re still in school.
Studies have shown that students in the third, fourth and fifth grades who receive language instruction outperform their peers in achievement tests. This has been found across the board—regardless of race and gender.
Students who receive language instruction do better in standardized college entrance exams (SAT and ACT).
Interestingly, Mathematics skill, the ability to work with numbers, is significantly improved when working with the languages. Yep, learning language helps you to “find X in the equation.” Imagine that.
Notice here how, very early on, language learning, in general—and Spanish, in particular—can affect the trajectory of one’s life? If it can positively impact your academic performance and your SAT scores, how much more will it boost your life’s overall potential?
Not only do the advantages start early, they accrue very fast. A good SAT score will get you to a good college. A good college will look good on your resume. And a good resume will lead the way to a high-paying job and a rewarding career.
So by learning a language, you get a deadly combo of skills and a serious chain of events that will raise your life’s trajectory to another level.
The Spanish Premium
Employers put a premium on employees who speak different languages.
And Spanish has a premium. It’s like simply writing “Speaks Spanish” on your resume magically adds dollars to your bank account.
Irene Missen, of the language specialist recruitment agency Euro London, estimates that in jobs like sales, marketing or technical support, a language can increase your salary by about 10-15%.
A language is an additional skill. It can open doors. Knowing Spanish, for example, would prove vital in jobs that involve close contact communication, negotiation and salesmanship. It’s an important differentiator and a competitive edge. If I’m an employer looking at the CVs of 2 essentially similar persons, but one has Spanish in his resume, I’ll always be thinking of the Spanish-speaking population who can now potentially become my clients.
An extra language is an extra tool for building productive relationships. In the field of healthcare, for example, doctors and nurses with Spanish backgrounds are better able to serve patients and address their needs. One can always hire a translator for medical staff, but knowing the language yourself saves the hospital administration money, and therefore makes you a prized medical professional.
Furthermore, Spanish can be the stepping-stone to an international career. After all, how many countries speak Spanish? Twenty. A person who speaks the language has just increased his employment potential twenty-fold.
Because globalization has brought different cultures together, it has brought personal economic benefit to the person who can bridge and mediate those cultures. In the next section, we’ll further flesh out the business side of Spanish.
2. Spanish Serves as a Business Lubricant for Corporations
The Spanish GDP
Spanish is spoken in 20 countries today. In addition, there are 44 countries who have at least 3 million Spanish speakers.
If you want to engage in commerce in the world today, it’s helpful to know that the combined GDP of Spanish-speaking countries easily tops $6 trillion. Mexico and Spain alone have $1.7 and $1.4 trillion respectively. One can only participate meaningfully in this huge (and rapidly growing) market if one understands the culture and speaks the language—not just the language of business, but the language of the person who sits across the table.
Spanish ranks 4th in terms of highesst global GDP, following English, Chinese and Japanese. Tied to 6.5% of the world’s GDP, Spanish is a lingua franca worth the monetary investment.
Spanish in International Business
Latin America is gaining the attention of the world, not only because of its beautiful people, but because of its bright economic potential.
There’s crude oil in Venezuela, copper in Chile and Peru and soybeans in Argentina. China seems to agree. In fact, it has pledged to invest $250 billion over the next 10 years. And believe me, if superpower China is betting that large on Latin American countries, it’s on to something.
Spanish-speaking economies are on the rise, backed by a commodities boom. Their populations are gaining buying power. And I’m not just talking about Carlos Slim Helu, the telecom magnate who dislodged Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as the richest dude in the world in 2010, I’m taking about the half a billion people who speak the language who could one day order half a billion sandwiches from your store.
English may be okay when you want to buy something. But when you want to sell a product and when you want to entice customers, you’ve got to speak the language that they understand.
If you’re a keen observer of international business, you’ll notice that Spanish corporations are making moves on British banks and companies—Santander has taken over Abbey, Telefonica is buying O2, and Iberia is merging with BA.
And if after all this, you’re still wondering whether a Spanish language course is worth it, Jane Weightman, director of Commercial Language Training, says that Spanish has overtaken German as the most important business language.
Isn’t that worth something?
3. The Economics of Better Decisions
Language Learning as a Problem Solving Activity
If you’re someone who has already spent many an hour learning a new language, then it will be very easy to see the process as a kind of problem solving activity. Each language has a distinct set of rules, contexts and complexities. When you approach a new language, it’s like approaching a new puzzle—in some ways it’s all very similar to a puzzle you’ve previously mastered (your native language), but in many ways it’s unique and it comes with its own set of eccentricities.
In Spanish for example, you’ll be challenged by gendered nouns and the variety of ways to conjugate regular and irregular verbs. English is quite a different proposition.
In language learning, you’ll have to negotiate meaning, notice nuances and learn the contextually appropriate conditions when a certain expression is used.
You’d have to accept the fact that, in a different tongue, a different set of tones, sounds and letters are used to describe the same object. So what English calls “apple,” Spanish calls “manzana.”
You’re confronted with the unfamiliar and it tells you to adapt. A new language puts your brain through its paces by requiring you to operate under a different set of rules. You need to productively integrate all these new rules into your communication as you proceed. So with a swarm of mental tasks foisted on your brain, is it really any wonder that bilinguals have been proven to have numerous improved brain functions?
Let’s look more into that in the next section.
The Effect on Cognitive Abilities
In brain imaging studies, scientists have discovered that bilinguals have higher density of gray matter in the area of the brain associated with vocabulary acquisition.
Studies point to a host of cognitive advantages that accompany bilinguals. They’ve been found to have more creativity and are therefore better at solving complex problems. They’re also better at multitasking—demonstrating cognitive flexibility and the capacity to adapt to unexpected circumstances.
They also have longer attention spans and stronger working memories. Their brains are a little bigger overall and less prone to dementia. They get all these cool benefits, in addition to being able to order tapas and possibly meet the loves of their lives in foreign lands.
I know, right? Who wouldn’t want all of these mouth-watering rewards? It’s really hard to put a dollar value on these cognitive advantages, but a lifetime of good decisions? Being able to think creatively, on your feet, with a sharp memory and high concentration? It’s all priceless.
That’s why, if you’ve paid your dues, and you weigh the time and the effort that you invest in learning Spanish, you’ll always come out the winner no matter how you slice it.
4. Cost of Losses Due to Lack of Language Fluency
A study by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) reports that in the UK alone language deficits cost around £48 billion a year.
This comes in the form of exporters failing to enter new markets and build their businesses internationally, breakdowns at negotiating tables and failures to build lasting economic relationships. In short, the lack of language skills kills business.
We’ve already known that over $6 trillion dollars’ worth of business is done by people who say “hola!” Spanish-speaking nations are experiencing growth and their populations’ buying power is too attractive to ignore. So much so that while English is still the language of international business, Spanish has increasingly become a second “de facto” language for any corporation with global aspirations.
So you see, speaking Spanish, (the language), and speaking Spanish (the culture) is vital for business collaboration and expansion.
But in other fields, language has an even purer impact.
Being fluent in Spanish can mean the difference between life and death—especially if you’re working in a US hospital frequented by patients able to talk only in Spanish. If a competent interpreter is vital to business, how much more vital is that interpreter to healthcare when a simple misunderstanding can cause irreparable harm to the patient?
And if we really wanna put a figure on the cost of the lack of language fluency in the field of healthcare, there’s a study by the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. It looked into 35 cases of malpractices where language barriers played a major role in patient harm. It reports that $2,289,000 in damages or settlements and $2,793,800 in legal fees were paid by carriers because of the failure to render proper and timely medical care as a result of language barriers.
Is there really any question as to the need for language fluency in a well-functioning global society?
The good thing is, the world is taking notice and doing a self-correction, at least as far as Spanish in concerned. In 2010, A-level Spanish class enrollments in the UK reflected the surge of Spanish learners. While enrollments for French and German where down 3.8% and 3.4% respectively, Spanish was up 4%.
The Japanese, who are easily the world’s most forward-thinking people, are now offering Spanish in all their high schools. There are now 2,000 language schools in Japan.
One can only hope that this trend happens for other international languages, as well.
5. The Knock-on Effect on Your First Language
Before we wrap up this post, let me give you something to think about: Learning Spanish not only will improve your Math skills, it will also improve your English. Who would’ve thought that?
Research has shown that studying a new language strengthens your linguistic skills in your first language—for example, English.
Such skills include vocabulary, listening skills, reading comprehension and overall memory for language.
This is because studying a new tongue makes you more aware of the vocabulary, grammar, structure, sound, intonation and idioms of your own language. This greater awareness and juxtaposition results in an appreciation that can’t be experienced by monolinguals.
In addition, practicing a new language involves the language areas of the brain, which positively affects first language skills.
So it’s true what Geoffrey Willans once said, “You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.”
How about that, huh?
There you go! 5 economic benefits of learning Spanish. And we haven’t even talked about what it will do to your love life. So continue the fight! Don’t be discouraged. You will get there.