How Much Does Being Bilingual Add to your Income?

Maybe you’re well established in your career but you’d like to learn Spanish or French or even Farsi in your spare time. How much would it add to your marketability and annual income?

ROI in the workplace for speaking a foreign language

According to research by MIT economist, Albert Saiz, you can expect a 2% annual return on your second language. If you’re earning $40,000 a year, that’s an additional $800.

In an Economist article, Saiz claims every language adds a different premium.

  • Spanish adds 1.8% annually
  • French adds 2.3% annually
  • German adds 3.8% annually

Speaking German adds more because Germany rules in the Economic Union and is more open to trade opportunities. English, the language of business and commerce, is lucrative outside the U.S. It increases business prospects enormously in countries where other languages prevail.

Not much, you say. Still, that 1.8 to 3.8 percent annual return can add up over time. Assume a college graduate earns $45,000 annually.

At just a 1 percent annual premium for a foreign language, and a 2 percent annual return on that money, speaking German would result in a lifetime earning value of $128,000.

The above figure and percentage increase considerably if you achieve fluency. Which few people actually do, says Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University.

How to become fluent

Caplan crusades against the efficacy of learning foreign languages in school.  Pew Research reports that  25% of Americans self report speaking a language other than English, but Caplan tells us few learned it in school. He cites the General Social Survey compiled by Berkeley:

“…25.7% of respondents speak a language other than English.  Within this sample, 41.5% claim to speak the other language “very well.”  Within this sub-sub-sample, just 7 percent say they learned to speak this foreign language in school.”

That means only .75 of one percent of Americans learned to speak  a foreign language in school. Forget school. There are other ways to learn.

Save time and Money. Learn  on your own.

Steven Fischer,  a native English speaker who speaks fluent Spanish as well as conversational Chinese and French, blogs at  He agrees with Caplan about the education system, and describes several other methods for becoming bilingual in short order:

  • He says this is the golden age of language learning, thanks to YouTube
  • He suggests studying on your own and practicing conversation weekly with a native online teacher (just $15-$20 an hour)

I took his advice and began studying French on my own in December of 2016 for an hour a day.  In addition to books and CDs, I conversed in French every Wednesday with my teacher, Aline Decreux, a French native. We connected via Skype. After the first few weeks, I began to progress more rapidly.

Free resources on the internet abound:

  • For French, I listened to free of charge
  • I listened to native speakers on YouTube, and sometimes shadowed them (repeating as I listened)
  • Assimil or Pimsleur CDs (far superior to Rosetta Stone) purchased used on Amazon or eBay taught me pronunciation and grammar

Four months later, I went on a road trip in Burgundy, France, and spoke French the whole way. Quite thrilling.

Indulge your love of language. Sharpen your memory. Increase your income.

Study or speak thirty minutes to an hour per day, and within a year you will achieve conversational ability. Then take a trip and experience the satisfaction of speaking with natives. Better yet, before you interview for your next job, put a second language on your resume. Negotiate an increased salary, invest it and build a nest egg.

Bonne chance, mon ami! Let me know how it goes.


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