Bilingualism a bankable skill: Study

Knowing both official languages gives workers an edge on compensation

People who speak both of Canada's official languages are likely to earn more than their unilingual colleagues, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ont.


The study, which looked at data from the 2001 census, found people don't actually have to use the second language on the job to enjoy the financial advantage — just knowing it translates into higher earnings.


The study, conducted by economics professors Louis Christofides and Robert Swidinsky, found men in Quebec who can speak both English and French earned seven per cent more on average than those who only speak French. Bilingual women earn eight per cent more.


The differential is smaller in the rest of Canada with bilingual men earning 3.8 per cent more than those who only speak English and bilingual women earning 6.6 per cent more.


But using the second language at work can yield even greater rewards, if the employee works in Quebec. In that province, men who use English frequently on the job can earn an additional 14 per cent more (on top of the seven per cent differential) than those who only speak French and women can earn an additional seven per cent.


However, in the rest of Canada, it makes no difference employees actually use French on the job — the increased salary is the same as for those who simply know both languages.


Employers associate bilingualism with other, valuable attributes, such as education, cultural sensitivity and sophistication, which might explain the pay differential, said Christofiedes.


However, the higher salary differential in Quebec reflects the high demand for English-speaking workers, especially in the province's major cities and among employers doing international business, said Christofiedes.



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