Students struggling with foreign language classes often ask themselves, what’s the point? What’s the point in learning a foreign language, when so many people and companies are willing to cater to you in English?
How does an extra $67,000 sound as an incentive? That’s the amount The Economist determined an average American college graduate fluent in a foreign language could expect to earn over their working life. This was calculated based on research carried out by MIT economist Albert Saiz.
Of course, the actual amount you could expect to gain from your foreign language proficiency depends on factors like what language you learn and what career field you are in.
Per the Economist:
“Albert Saiz, the MIT economist who calculated the 2% premium, found quite different premiums for different languages: just 1.5% for Spanish, 2.3% for French and 3.8% for German. This translates into big differences in the language account: your Spanish is worth $51,000, but French, $77,000, and German, $128,000.”
That’s all well and good if you’re American, but what about in the UK? Here, the difference is even more significant. In 2004, the Michel Thomas Language Centre found that foreign language fluency could increase your income by £3,000 a year, or £145,000 in a lifetime. That’s not surprising, considering the UK’s proximity to other, non-English speaking countries.
As an additional bonus, the Michel Thomas Language Centre study also found that learning a second language can increase your popularity with potential romantic partners.
Is this extra earning power likely to decline in the era of Google Translate? Probably not anytime soon. Machine translation is still an imperfect beast. Meanwhile, globalization increases the need for businesses to be able to communicate in other languages. The Economist sums it up well:
One optimistic estimate is that half the world’s people might speak English by 2050. That leaves billions who will not, and billions of others who remain happier (and more willing to spend money) in their own language.