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Lifehacker recently highlighted some data from The Economist detailing the return on investment in learning a foreign language: how much more will you earn, over your lifetime, if you make your language skills a factor in your employability?

The article assumes a starting salary of $45,000 with a 2% bump for the language skills and an annual 1% raise, which I suppose is possible although I’ve never seen it. Anecdotally, I do use a second language in my work—I teach French as a Second Language. But knowing the French is a pre-condition of the job. I don’t think I get paid any more for it than the gym teacher gets paid for knowing how to teach gym or the IT specialist gets paid for having those minimum qualifications.

I did need to take a special qualification to teach this subject area, and that will give me a pay bump if I ever get a union job. But so would any special qualification—I could get the same ‘bump’ from taking the courses for reading, or math, or library & media, or dozens of other things. I do work in a tight job market, and since the French qualification is harder to get (you have to take a special test to be admitted to the course) and less desirable (since many teachers don’t want to travel from class to class) having it does make me more employable. But it doesn’t make me eligible for any kind of salary bump, per se, other than the general one you get for accumulating a certain number of extra courses.

If you do want to brush on on your language skills though, the ebook market does open up some great little shortcuts. Want to try your hand at, for example, French? A Creative Commons licensed French textbook by Gretchen Angelo has made inroads at several colleges, and is available for free download in PDF format. Once you’ve acquired the basic skills, you can download other freebies from Project Gutenberg, Amazon or even your public library (mine has the complete Harry Potter series in French) and use the translate or dictionary option on your reader to work your way through it. It may be slow going at first, but you’ll get better! The Kindle Paperwhite platform even has a flashcard feature which lets you practice vocabulary words. Since I do read in French, it’s tempted me to upgrade from my otherwise just fine Kobo Glo!

 
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