In an increasingly interconnected global economy, the ability to operate in a multicultural and multilingual environment is an increasingly desirable trait among employees, especially in leadership roles. Major companies are looking to add more international experience to their boardrooms, and a lack of intercultural skills can derail the careers of global leaders.
Accordingly, fluency in more than one language is one of many soft skills employers are looking for in talent today. The value of polyglot employees is the subject of Gabrielle Hogan-Brun’s new book Linguanomics: What is the Market Potential of Multilingualism? Writing at Quartz, Hogan-Brun lays out the case for how multilingual employees, and particularly multilingual teams, can give an organization a leg up in innovation:
Observations of multi-language work teams show that mixed-language groups have a propensity to find innovative solutions for practical problems. This is because they use a range of communication strategies in flexible and dynamic ways. When speakers from different language backgrounds work together using a common language, they draw on subconscious concepts that lie below the surface of the language they happen to be conversing in. …
So what is going on in the heads of these polyglots?
Recent investigations into the structural plasticity of the bilingual brain have shown that multilingual brains function differently to monolingual brains. We see when individuals speak a second language, different parts of the brain’s Broca’s area—the area of the brain involved in language production—light up as opposed to when they use their mother tongue.
In fact, the group of neuroscientists has also discovered the bilingual brain is structurally different to the monolingual brain. The left inferior parietal cortex—an area of the brain heavily involved in the processing of language, forming concepts, and thinking abstractly—is denser in bilinguals than monolinguals, and becomes denser as language proficiency increases. Moreover, bilingual people have also been found to have altogether more gray matter than monolinguals.