Dear Matt: I always read about the importance of learning technical skills to help my job prospects. I was thinking, what would be the benefit of learning Spanish and applying that to a future job? What opportunities are there for those who are bilingual and will it increase my chances of being hired?

Matt: The quick answer is yes, it will help you greatly. The "Multiple Languages Issues in Business" fact sheet on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities website says it best:

"As communities become increasingly diverse, so does the workforce. This growing diversity creates multiple language and cross-cultural sensitivity issues that businesses need to be aware of and deal with, whether they operate in the U.S. or abroad."

I agree with Tim Cotroneo, an account manager for Minneapolis Drafting Services, Inc., a search firm specializing in placing engineering and architecture professionals. He says that every computer/software, hands-on skill, or foreign language that you learn offers added-value to the employer.

"If an employer has international clients, a facility in another country or employees who speak another language, then your being bi-lingual is a plus," says Cotroneo.

Look through job postings and see what industries are looking for workers with multiple language skills. With more than 34 million Spanish-speaking Americans in the United States, there are greater opportunities for those who speak that language. But the need for those who can speak many other languages also exists. Among the industries where multiple language skills are beneficial: customer service, education, finance, government, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, restaurant and technology.

Denise Felder, editor of MnCareers and Minnesota's iSeek Solutions (ISEEK.org), brings up a good point when she says it's important to have job experience in whatever field you want to pursue, in addition to versatile language skills. In other words, if you have five years of experience in healthcare administration and want to learn Spanish, learn it to benefit your career in that field, not to change careers (unless a complete career change is on top of your list). If you are in a career you like and want to move up or expand your employment options, learn a language and use it as another skill to add to your industry/sector experience.

"Always consider what extras you can bring to the table in order to help the employer meet its goals," says Cotroneo. "In a global economy, learning another language is always going to be a great investment for your future."


Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, and has nine years of experience reporting on the employment industry. This column will answer readers' questions. E-mail questions or subject ideas to askmatt@startribune.com.