It’s no secret that knowing a second language can give you a huge advantage in the workplace. Those who are fluent in Canada’s two official languages frequently enjoy both higher employment rates and higher income levels when compared to the rest of Canadians.
These advantages are perhaps most pronounced when it comes to bilingual job positions.
A 2010 study found that, in Quebec, men in bilingual positions earned almost 21% more than their unilingual Francophone counterparts, while women in bilingual positions earned almost 15% more than their purely French-speaking colleagues.
Outside of Quebec, men and women in bilingual positions earned 5.4% and 9.3% more, respectively, than their Anglophone counterparts.
In short, it literally pays to be bilingual.
While many companies offer fully bilingual positions, the best place to find bilingual work in Canada is with the federal public service. Of the almost 180,000 positions available within the public service, about 40% are designated bilingual. And with an aging workforce, the federal government needs to recruit about 5,000 new bilingual employees every year.
Since almost all of the above positions require a post-secondary education, this makes the federal government a potentially huge employer of qualified bilingual graduates.
Short answer: Keep learning French/English.
While most Canadians receive some kind of second language instruction in high school, these language skills can deteriorate remarkably quickly without regular practice.
Take me, for instance. I spent a total of 12 years in a French Immersion program and I graduated from high school with an official bilingual certificate. Less than one year later, I could barely utter a coherent sentence in French. While I could still read and understand the language perfectly fine, my ability to communicate in French, both orally and in writing, had almost completely vanished. Although I’ve recently been working to regain my French skills, I’m still nowhere near as fluent as I used to be.
If you don’t want to end up like me, you need to keep practicing your second language after you finish high school. How much work you need to put in to keep your French or English skills competitive will depend on your knowledge of the language going into college and university.
For Immersion graduates, it can be as simple as reading a French or English newspaper every day. For students who have a less extensive knowledge of their second language, more formal training might be required. Completing a minor in your second language would probably be ideal, but even a few additional courses, combined with regular practice in your spare time, can help with language retention.
Even if you’ve already finished school and you no longer have an easy way of obtaining formal training, there are still good reasons to try and improve your language skills in your spare time.
While you might not be able to compete for purely bilingual positions, even rudimentary knowledge of a second, or third, language can benefit you in a wide variety of jobs—especially in Canada’s increasingly multicultural society. In the sales and customer service sectors, for instance, the ability to speak multiple languages can help you build rapport with customers and improve your job performance. If you think about the amount of work new immigrants put in to learn English or French, then even a bit of effort to communicate with them in their native tongue can garner you a great deal of respect.
Finally, the effort and dedication needed to learn a second language can speak volumes about your character to a potential employer. Learning a new language is hard, and even if you never fully master that language, the fact that you’re willing to put in the time to try and learn it demonstrates your initiative, your strong work ethic and your willingness to persevere—all qualities which are desirable in a good employee.
Photo credit: Shannon