Is a Second Language Helpful or Harmful?

Is a Second Language Helpful or Harmful?

The ability to speak multiple languages has always been viewed as a great skill and talent to have and to list on your resume, but can being fluent in several languages cause discrimination or bias in the workplace?

Multilingualism plays a huge role in the global workplace. As immigration rates increase and international business demands continue, so does the need for workers that can bridge those language barriers. Employers, especially those that profit mainly from international business, value bilingual workers who are able to perform the job function with dual-capabilities rather than paying two separate salaries. Bilingual people also hold the responsibility of being the liaison and representative of both cultures. The ability to speak a second language offers a wide array of career choices because bilingualism is celebrated and rewarded in many job fields. However, being bilingual in the workplace also has its drawbacks.

Some employers illegally indulge in language discrimination, which means that they treat employees differently because of their native language or speech characteristics. However, there are laws against language discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects bilingual people from discrimination based on their national origin and race. For instance, your employer is not allowed to not pay you less for a lack of communication skills, deny you the ability to speak in your native language while at work nor are they allowed to deny you a raise for lack of English skills despite being exceptional in all other areas. This is considered language discrimination and it is not permissible under federal law. On the other hand, there is no law restricting employers from requiring all employees to be bilingual. Employers must be able to cater to all nationalities to make their businesses flourish in a diverse setting, thus, this requirement is not illegal because it would best suit their businesses.

Language barriers have also been the cause of many issues at the office and have gotten in the way of productivity. One of the main language barrier issues that can occur in the workplace is culture and language misunderstandings. Many workers may not have a great understanding of the appropriate language and behaviors of the office culture, some of the things they say or do may be taken offensively. Though it’s their duty to learn the native language, their employer should assist in the transition because it takes time and patience to fully immerse yourself into a culture.

If you are having trouble with the language barriers in your workplace, there are a few tips to assist you:

  1. Take an English as a Second Language, or ESL, course. This course will familiarize you not only with the language, but also the culture of America. Many of these courses are taught at a school or university, and typically last an hour or two. They will assist with your confidence in speaking English on the workplace, and help you build a safe working environment.
  2. Avoid using slang and jargon. Many words in your native language may not translate well into another language. To avoid any misunderstandings and problems, it is best to not use slang or jargon on the job.
  3. Get a co-worker to serve as your mentor or language coach. Having a language coach assist you in the culture and appropriate uses of certain words will help greatly in overcoming language barriers.
  4. Be patient. Learning another culture is not a simple task. It requires time, patience and trial and error.

Being bilingual is definitely an important skill to have now that the melting pot that is America is rapidly expanding. Bilingualism allows people to preserve their culture and gain more job offers. However, there are employers and others who still believe that non-native speakers are inferior. Language discrimination is still prominent, but it is also illegal. Non-native speakers may face language obstacles in the workplace, but there are plenty of resources to help them overcome such issues. Therefore, knowing a second language is more helpful than harmful.