According to a recent survey by, 46% (nearly half!) of retail workers plan to look for a new job this year, hoping to find something that pays more, is more satisfying, and advances their career. Perhaps even you plan to hunt for a new job soon.

In today's tough job market, it can be rather difficult to stand out in a crowded pool of applicants. One way to draw the interest of a potential employer is to offer a somewhat unusual skill: being multilingual.

I say somewhat unusual because, in fact, about 20% of Americans speak a language other than English while at home. Spanish is the No. 2 language in America, but it's not the only one that can pave the way to employment.

With our mixing-bowl society of people from scores of different nations and cultures, it's a sure thing that folks who are not fluent in English are going to be buying insurance, doing banking, patronizing retailers, ordering cable TV services, calling tech support, using credit cards, making travel plans, buying homes and cars, and going to school, among many other things.

Companies such as Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Citigroup (NYSE:C), Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), and American Express (NYSE:AXP) can make good use of multilingual employees. So can smaller firms, such as a software developer that needs to include instructions in Spanish, or even a local bakery that wants to draw business from a nearby ethnic neighborhood.

Any American company intending to expand internationally will also need folks who speak in several tongues and who are familiar with other cultures. The same goes for our friend, the U.S. government. The CIA, for example, is often on the lookout for speakers of certain languages.

A recent CBS MarketWatch article listed some top languages to learn:

  • Spanish ("Mexico is among the top five U.S. trading partners.")
  • Chinese ("China is the fastest-growing consumer market in the world.")
  • Portuguese ("The third-largest consumer market by 2010, after China and India, will likely be Brazil.")
  • Arabic or Farsi ("Since 9/11, 'there's been a need for more Arabic and Farsi speakers.'")
  • German ("Germany's language is increasingly the second language of choice in places like Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary.")
  • Russian ("Most Eastern Europeans still speak Russian.")
  • French ("French is spoken in very large regions of Africa.")

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