What do Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, WWE champion John Cena, and British actress Vanessa Branch (most famous for her appearance in a series of Orbit gum commercials) all have in common?
They speak Chinese!
While it’s certainly entertaining to watch 251 lb. Cena stumble commendably through the language, his bilingual abilities are indicative of a trend far larger than himself.
Perhaps Chinese hasn’t reached the ubiquity of Spanish in institutes of learning around the United States, but the growth that it shows is exponential. Between 2002 and 2005 alone, there was a 52% increase in higher education students studying Chinese, and as of 2015, there are 550 American elementary, junior high, and senior high schools offering Chinese, a 100% increase from two years prior (data courtesy of Asia Society and USA Today).
What accounts for this rapid uptick? Besides being the most widely spoken language in the world, Chinese has recently entered the ring with English as a language of international business. More and more, people are taking up Chinese to bolster their corporate resumes, knowing that companies have a growing need for multilingual employees as they expand into the world’s second largest economy. Cena’s Mandarin abilities first came to light at a WWE press conference in Beijing at a time when the WWE was hoping to move into the Chinese market. And is it any coincidence that Zuckerberg’s knack for the language came out during a Tsinghua press conference in which the CEO discussed Facebook’s potential future in China (after years of being notoriously blocked by the Great Firewall)?
Due in large part to this increasing pervasiveness, it is no longer good enough to have Chinese as your only marketable skill. When I entered college in 2011, many around me applauded my choice to major in Chinese. “You’ll get an amazing job with that after graduation!” they said. And in 2011, they were mostly right. Simply putting “Limited working proficiency in Mandarin Chinese” on my resume was enough to land me a comfortable job. By the time I graduated in 2015, however, single-major-me was already obsolete.
Such a point was driven home when I attended a new student orientation for the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship program. An alumnus of the program, now working for Apple, stressed the fact that Chinese won’t get you the interview you seek. But, he said, it will get you the job. It will be your other skills and experiences that get your foot in the door, but when the hiring manager has one hundred nearly identical resumes to choose from, it will be the “Chinese” on yours that sets you apart and makes you the most hirable candidate.
Even if you go down a career path unrelated to Chinese, the fact that you speak the language will always be a point in you favor; it will always be notable. It says that you are capable of persevering through a frustrating, often tedious task. It says that you can tackle a challenge. It may no longer make you unique, but it makes you hirable.