Conversant in a second language
By: Robert Half
"Habla usted espanol?" ("Do you speak Spanish?")
"Nihongo o wakarismasu ka?" ("Do you understand Japanese?")
As we increasingly become a global economy, these questions
are more frequently asked of job candidates in all sectors of business.
It may not be a prerequisite for new accountants entering the professional
field to be, at least, conversant in a second language, but it surely
is a valuable additional attribute; it becomes more so with each passing
Not long ago, American business executives predicted that
Japanese would become the most useful second language in the future of
business. This prediction was the finding of a 1989 Accountemps survey
of 150 executives from the nation's 1,000 largest companies. The 1989
study, while pointing to Japanese as the future's most important second
language, named Spanish as being the most important.
In a similar 1997 survey, far fewer of the respondents felt
that Japanese would be the second language of choice in the years ahead.
Spanish ranked the highest by a wide margin (63%), with Japanese (16%)
coming in a distant second. (Spanish, in the 1989 survey, won by a narrower
margin over Japanese.)
Why this change? Many factors probably contributed to it,
including the many Japanese businessmen and women who increased their
fluency in English. Latin America, European countries in which Spanish
is the national language, and countries with an increase in Spanish speaking
populations are rapidly emerging as major players in the global economy.
In the United States, the Hispanic population continues to grow. These
are all good reasons for learning to communicate in Spanish.
There is a broader implication for new accountants who are
leaving behind their academic years and entering the workforce. The ability
to speak a second language has always been prized, not only in business
situations, but also as part of our daily lives. Those persons who have
traveled to other countries quickly become aware of the local citizens'
positive response to foreigners who are able to speak and comprehend their
language. It's very similar to a job candidate who takes the time to learn,
prior to the interview, about the company with which he or she is applying;
it demonstrates initiative and interest.
It has always been claimed that children learn other languages
with greater ease than adults. That's probably true. However, this claim
doesn't imply that we lose the ability to become fluent in another language
as we get older. Every person has the capacity to learn another language
and should do so. In my opinion, a second language would not only add
a valuable asset to offer prospective employers, but it would enrich one's
A friend and accountant who has been working in the profession
for six years and speaks and understands Spanish with some fluency, recently
enjoyed a vacation in Mexico City. While there, over lunch, he happened
to overhear a conversation at an adjacent table between two Mexican businessmen
who were discussing the imminent expansion of their company. Eventually,
my friend and the businessmen got into a friendly discussion of non-business
topics that led to the subject of their company and its plans for growth,
including the opening of a subsidiary in the United States. I'm sure that
you've already figured out the ending. My friend was hired at a considerable
raise in salary, along with an enhanced title and greater responsibility.
I am not saying that if you learn a second language, you
will have a chance meeting that results in a bigger and better job. However,
it behooves everyone launching a professional career to arm themselves
with as much marketable skill as possible. A second language is certainly
one of these skills. Take advantage of community college courses, or foreign
language classes through local adult education courses. Use the multitude
of self-help language training systems that are currently available.
So, for now, "Adios amigos, and sayonara!"