Second-language speakers in the minority in America

By Paolo Cisneros

American citizens fall well behind their European counterparts when it comes to proficiency in a second language, and it may be costing them jobs.

A 2005 survey by the European Union reported that half of all Europeans speak a second language while a resolution from the same year published by the U.S. Senate found that only 9 percent of Americans could do the same.

Professor of French Peter Golato said natives of many other countries have come to expect that most Americans are only proficient in English.

“Most corporations overseas don’t automatically assume Americans can speak their language,” he said. “Being able (to do so) is an unexpected and appreciated skill.”

Golato added that most Europeans know at least enough English to get by when speaking to Americans.

Peter Honiotes, sophomore in LAS, switched his major from psychology to Spanish after considering some of the opportunities that doing so would allow him.

He said he has considered joining the Peace Corps in addition to working in the field, which would require that he be able to speak Spanish with some degree of fluency.

“It’s definitely a growing language,” he said. “It’s something that’s a big part of our country now.”

Damian Lay, assistant director of The Career Center, said that while bilingualism is not a necessity for most jobs, it can often serve to expand a person’s career opportunities.

“It depends on if you’re looking to work for a company that has global presence or would require you to travel,” he said. “There’s no formula for determining whether it would be useful.”

Those planning on entering fields such as business, health care, or communications might benefit from knowing a language other than English, he said.

Being bilingual might also be useful in any number of other fields, Golato said.

“Knowing a second language puts you in a position to relate to whoever the other person is who speaks that language natively,” he said. “It puts them in a much more familiar setting than they’re used to.”

Moreover, it might serve to increase a person’s professional marketability in today’s struggling economy.

“There are companies that would find an employee who had a bachelor of arts and who had proficiency in (another language) a very attractive candidate in the job market,” Golato said.