Turns out, learning a second language can literally pay off.
MIT economist Albert Saiz calculated the exact monetary returns of learning different foreign languages for U.S. college graduates and found that there are measurable benefits to learning how to conjugate German, French, and Spanish verbs.
Mastering German could boost your salary
Guten tag! If you want the most bang for your buck, consider learning German. Saiz, who co-authored the study, found that this was the language that produced the highest returns with a 3.8 percent bonus. Crunching Saiz’s percentages with average salary forecasts, The Economist found that learning German could potentially earn you $128,000. Speaking French earned language speakers a 2.3% bonus and Spanish earned speakers a 1.5% bonus.
German earned top honors, not because the language inherently was better than any other language, but because of supply and demand principles: There were fewer German speakers for a high demand of German-language jobs. “The results indicate that those who speak languages known by a smaller number of people obtain higher rewards in the labor market,” the study concluded.
Although Spanish-speakers make up more of the world’s GDP, The Economist theorized that the financial value of learning German could also come down to trade: “Germany is a trade powerhouse, so its language will be more economically valuable for an outsider than the language of a relatively more closed economy.”
Other benefits to learning a foreign language
Even if you’re learning a language that does not lead to monetary rewards in the labor market, there are other many science-backed benefits to earning fluency in a second language.
Psychologists have found that bilingual speakers have a mental advantage: They are better at controlling the parts of our brain in charge of judgment and planning, and they show heightened social skills. In one test, psychologists found that multilingual children were better at understanding the perspectives of others. When you have to keep track of different languages being spoken in a conversation, you are better at intuiting key context cues others may miss.
These benefits all sound good on paper, but as anyone who has sat through years of language classes understands, easier said than done. Learning a second language at any stage of your career can be a long, bumpy journey of garbled tenses and embarrassing miscommunications.
When you’re practicing, you may wonder if your hours of learning will ever pay off. But next time you’re struggling to remember how to translate obscure German stories for class, here’s one motivating tip: The German word for rich is reich.