Can learning languages get you a job?

Last updated: 31 Jul 2023, 10:38

Are you bilingual? Find out why it is important to learn different languages, what languages to learn and the different ways to learn a language.


In-demand languages | Benefits of learning a language: skills | How to learn a language | Learning tips | Using your language skills at uni | Careers that value second languages | Job application tips

For some jobs, fluency in a second language is a requirement or a significant advantage, and many recruiters value this quality in applicants even when it doesn’t have an obvious connection to the role they’re looking to fill. There’s no denying that languages make you more employable and demonstrate your capacity for learning. Plus, the act of learning another language builds key skills (as described below).

Bilingual or multilingual? Being bilingual is usually taken to mean that someone speaks two languages fluently, which, broadly speaking, means being able to keep up a conversation in either language without problems. If you’re multilingual, you’re fluent in several languages, which potentially gives you an even greater advantage in your graduate job hunt.

What are the best languages to get a job?

According to the most recent report (2019) from the CBI, a lobbying organisation that represents many British businesses, the languages most often sought by employers are:

  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Arabic.

The CBI/Pearson Education and Skills report, published jointly with education company Pearson, commented that the growing demand for Spanish reflected its use both in Europe and Latin America.

Why is it important to learn a language: building skills

People who speak more than one language are often said to find it easier to develop the following soft skills:

  • Communication: speaking more than one language is likely to make you aware of how you express yourself and what is needed to get a message through. This helps you communicate more proficiently in all languages you speak.
  • Multitasking: successfully going back and forth between two languages makes it likely that you’re able to balance multiple tasks at work as well.
  • Problem solving: thinking and speaking in multiple languages help you think about how to interpret and approach problems and possible solutions from different perspectives.
  • Creativity and originality: if you’re aware of how much language systems can vary and how many ways there are to express the same thing, chances are you’re well equipped to think outside the box in other aspects of life too.
  • Cultural understanding and awareness: knowing a second language might mean that you have access to a different culture and can recognise and adapt to the fact that things are done differently in different places.

Our advice on key skills that will help you get a graduate job looks at how to describe your skills in your applications and interviews.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, thinking about your strengths could help you decide what career path would suit you. For example, if you know yourself to be culturally aware and sensitive, you might do well in a career that gives you the opportunity to interact with a variety of people from different cultures.

How to learn another language

Your university or other educational institution

Many universities and colleges offer resources for students that wish to learn languages at a basic level, or provide night classes for adult learners. It may be worth reaching out to see if you can access the material even if you have no intention of undertaking a degree course or extra module.

Via apps

As with everything from eating to sleeping to managing an international hedge fund, there are apps for language learning. Some of the below require a subscription or have optional paid tiers, which generally range from about £5–£10 per month depending on the course and length of subscription:


Language podcasts can serve as a great companion to language learning. These are usually free, but do be aware that some recommend companion reading material and some come in video format. Good starting points depend on the language, but the ‘Coffee Break’ language series has a good number to choose from, while ‘Slow Chinese’ has proved popular with expats in the country.


The BBC has its own dedicated online language-learning resources .

The Open University

The Open University has its own selection of free courses, which can be found at its Open Learn website.

Top tips for learning another language

  • There is no substitute for conversation – the fastest, most effective way to learn a language is to converse with native speakers.
  • Regularity – making language practice a part of your daily routine is essential. This can adapt to your lifestyle, but whether it is five minutes a day or five hours a week, it needs to be a continuous learning process.
  • Find what you enjoy about learning a language – some people will find joy in the minutiae of grammar, others from learning every curse word without context (though don’t use them!). Start with something you enjoy and the rest will follow.
  • Have a reason for learning – if you’re learning for work, try to get the basics and work up to business terminology; if you’re learning for a holiday, start with the phrases you’ll need.

Using your language skills at uni

If you’re still at university, you can find activities related to your second language that will make you more employable.

  • You could serve on the committee of a relevant club or society to gain management and organisational skills.
  • You could volunteer at the international centre to help international students who speak your language settle in.
  • If classes are held in your language, you could ask to help with language tuition.
  • You might also be able to study abroad for one or two semesters and work part-time in your host country. If you have worked in a different cultural context, you can more easily reflect on how a business functions abroad and compare it to the UK. This can help you develop your commercial awareness .
  • Some part-time jobs are easier to get if you’re bilingual. You could work at a restaurant serving food from the country or countries where your language is spoken. Alternatively, some customer service jobs (both part- and full-time) need speakers of widely spoken languages, for instance work at call centres answering questions about an organisation’s products or services.
  • You might also be able to find temporary translation work. Some organisations with offices abroad want things like training material for staff translated from English to their native language. While these kinds of jobs are rare, it’s worth looking out for online or on notice boards where modern language courses are taught at your university.

Careers where being bilingual gives you an edge

Not sure what you want to do? You might speak a language that is highly valued in a specific industry. Consider career options where there’s high demand for graduates who speak and understand more than one language. Research employers to find out if some of them tend to advertise positions where your language is particularly sought after.

In some roles you’ll be required to speak and write in your second language just as well as in English, for example if you were to work as a foreign language analyst for MI5, the Security Service.

Make sure you register with targetjobs and complete your profile, including details of your language skills, and make sure you include your language skills on your CV.

Some of the career sectors where bilingualism is in high demand are:

Job application tips for bilinguals

  • If you already know what sector, and perhaps even what employer, you’re interested in, your second language can be your way in.
  • Many employers will look more than once at your CV if there is a second language on there, especially if they are part of a multinational organisation – or would like to make connections abroad in the future. Bilinguals can interact with clients, customers and suppliers from other countries more effortlessly, flag up any cultural misunderstandings and might even make it easier to establish contacts in new countries if the business expands. Bilinguals stand a good chance of getting to work in regional offices abroad if they work for an international organisation.
  • If you apply for a job through an online application form, you might be asked to list the languages you speak and categorise yourself as a beginner, intermediate, advanced or native speaker. As long as you would be able to take part in a business conversation, you can put yourself in one of the higher categories.

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