Second language in tech
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Why is a second language so important for tech jobs?

6 Feb 2018

While the hard, technical skills are essential if you want to progress in your tech career, a second language could be an equally valuable asset.

What is one of the most valuable skills you can have if you want to work in tech? Well, depending on the role, the answer to this question can vary.

Do you want to be a software developer? A cloud engineer? Do you want to work in customer support? Knowledge of certain programming languages, strong problem-solving capabilities and analytical aptitude are some of the top skills in varying degrees. However, one of the strongest skills that you can have could be a second language.

In addition to the technical capabilities you need to do the job you’re applying for, having language skills – and, in particular, knowing a second or third language well – will put you head and shoulders above those who only have their native language.

According to data from job site Indeed, German and French were the most in-demand languages for tech jobs in Ireland. More than 45pc of tech jobs requiring a second language asked for German, while almost 33pc looked for French.

However, even when jobs don’t demand knowledge or fluency in a second language, it’s an extremely strong skill to have.

Many tech jobs see a second language as a desirable skill, putting you ahead of some of the competition. This is particularly true in the sphere of helpdesk and support work.

Going global

Another benefit of a second language is the flexibility of taking your career to other parts of the world in which your second language would prove to be a great asset.

Tech jobs are up for grabs all over the world and the industry is going through a global talent shortage so, if you were ever considering relocating, having another language will open even more doors for you.

‘Knowing a second language improves one’s brain power’
– PROF ANDY WAY spoke to Prof Andy Way, deputy director of the Adapt Centre in the Dublin City University School of Computing.

Outside of his education and experience in computing, Way has a BA in French, German and linguistics. He has also been building machine translation systems for 30 years.

“In my field, engineers need the insights from translators to improve their technology in the future. Our systems are trained on data produced by human translators so, without them, we couldn’t even begin to do what we do,” said Way.

“We rely on translators’ data to conduct automatic evaluations of machine translation quality, as well as on translators per se to conduct human evaluations. Given all this, in my team in the computing department, I employ people on the human factors side, and want to employ more.”

Way also said that outside of his specific area, being multilingual improves jobseekers’ mobility. “There is also documented evidence that knowing a second language improves one’s brain power, especially for truly bilingual people,” he said.

Dominant forces

Aside from having the ability to move around the world voluntarily, those working in tech ought to recognise the trends within the industry and note how that might affect their work.

It’s well known that China and India are fast becoming dominant forces within the tech industry. Way said that knowledge of Chinese and the high number of languages in India is bound to be a plus.

Based on more data from Indeed, the growth of tech skills year on year unsurprisingly centres around programming languages and technical capabilities such as Java, Python, React and Azure. However, buried within all of these technical skills was Mandarin, the dominant written and spoken language in China.

The rise of Mandarin shows the impact that the world’s second-largest economy is having on the tech industry.

Way reiterated that while English is fairly widely spoken in India, for example, being able to speak your customer’s language when you are trying to sell them your products and services is hugely beneficial.

It seems even in countries where your first language is the dominant language, a second one will give a tech worker so many more opportunities, especially in the competitive job market.

“I’ve really been able to combine both skills in my career, which has proven very fortunate for me,” said Way.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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