Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On multilingualism

Certainly, multilingualism has many benefit, in terms of family bonding, travel, cultural knowledge, social prospects (acquaintances, friends, spouse), and possibly neurological and cognitive function.  In terms of employment benefit, language art is a tool, a tool to communicate and express oneself, and a mean to promote and sell products, be it goods, services, or ideas.  The more valuable the products are, the more helpful it is to have mastery over one or more languages.  The more local one's products are (like healthcare), the less useful it is to know a language different from the local tongue. 

Therefore, a local insurance company pays their Spanish/English bilingual help desk staff a miserly extra US$0.60 per hour ($13.60 vs. $13), compared to plain English speaking only staff.  Likewise, interpreters or language instructors/teachers earn, at best, middle class wages. Physicians like ourselves would have gained much more financially if the time required for decent mastery over a second language is used to acquire additional medical knowledge or skills. 

On the other hand, for upper middle/upper level employees of multinational companies or aspiring international entrepreneur, multilingualism can certainly open up new doors and opportunities, though, I suspect, it would require more in-depth knowledge of local customs or extensive travel/living abroad arrangement.  However, such arrangement do not necessarily lead to greater long-term financial reward, though it does offer other unique experiences.

Overall, I believe that bilingualism in Chinese and English in America have many benefits and that's why we chose to take this very arduous path; however, the absolute benefit of financial reward is probably overstated.

If you have other thoughts on this, I would love to hear from you.

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