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Bilinguals see higher employability and wages

Laura Sanchez Ubanell

Feb 18, 2015


What does it take to be successful in this digital and global world? Well, new research shows that getting hired for a job or earning higher wages has to do with something many younger generations are taking for granted.

Turns out being equally fluent in more than one language leads to a higher salary and increased rates of employability. South Florida residents knew this long ago but a little scientific backing never hurt anyone.

“The perception of some across the country is that immigrants are a drain on the economy,” said University of California Los Angeles Professor Patricia Gándara, who was invited to speak at FIU Feb. 10 as part of the College of Education’s Dean’s Speakers Series.

“Evidence suggests the exact opposite is true,” she added. “Those who learned English and maintain their native language earn more, have higher status jobs, and it also means they will pay more taxes and not resort to social service programs for support.”

Gándara is the co-author of a new book showcasing research on the performance of bilinguals, “The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy, and the U.S. Labor Market,” and is also co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civilesat UCLA.

Her book combines research from multiple disciplines including anthropology, economics, education, linguistics and sociology to study how bilingualism affects the economics of a new generation of bilinguals entering a globalized workforce in the digital age.

At a young age, Gándara knew that even though she was learning and perfecting English, this didn’t mean she could simply give up on her native language. As the years went on, she worked consistently in mastering both languages and now she hopes to inspire the same desire in younger generations.


“I came from Cuba and I wanted to keep my language and continue working in my community,” said Mayeluz Navarro, 30, (at right) a professional translator and master of foreign language education student. “Lots of parents think that to be successful you have to learn English – so it’s English only. They need to learn that it’s also important to maintain your native language.”

Gándara originally posted research that showed that there was no economic advantage for bilingual members of society, and in fact, they earned less.

However, Gándara eventually admitted the original studies were flawed because they focused on census data that did not accurately distinguish the level of language proficiency among respondents. This is crucial because those who are equally proficient in both languages tend to do far better than others who were more literate in one language compared to the other.

“Among the greatest assets immigrants bring to this country are their languages – especially when they are world languages spoken in different countries,” she said.

“Bilingual students show ability to focus and see things from different perspectives. Socially, they are more interested in other cultures and are comfortable with diversity. Those are skills that employers are telling us are needed in this economy.”

However, Gándara warns this advantage could disappear within three generations if society didn’t take steps to incorporate bilingual education in schools.

“As a second generation Cuban-American, I felt inspired,” said Yuliette Antunez, 29, who is working toward a master of early childhood education. “When I have children they’re going to be speaking Spanish all the time. It’s important for them to know the importance of their culture.”

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