Speaking the Language

St. Louis is positioning job seekers for global opportunities.


Story By Amy Burger

Job competition can be tough, especially for younger people just entering the workforce. But there’s one particular skill that can give a job seeker an edge — and St. Louis can offer it in abundance.

A recent article from NBC News, “Report: Want the Job? Be Able to Say So in More than One Language,” asserts that being multilingual gives job candidates a distinct advantage. Reporter Carmen Cusido notes a 2017 study by the New American Economy found that the demand for bilingual employees more than doubled from 2010 to 2015, and a Boston Globe article highlights specifically how cellular providers, banks, software companies and healthcare facilities are utilizing bilingual employees to communicate with international customers and patients. The Globe points out that majority of jobs seeking bilingual candidates don’t even require a bachelor’s degree for application.

Missouri — and especially St. Louis — increasingly is positioned to help satisfy those language needs in several ways, through traditional education, community programs and opportunities to learn from a growing foreign-born population.

Language Opportunities for College Students and Younger

Missouri is the 28th state to approve the Seal of Biliteracy Program, in which the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy and Distinguished Missouri Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to graduating high school students in districts with an approved program who have demonstrated achievement in English, a Language Other Than English (LOTE) and sociocultural competence. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are more than 20 school districts in the St. Louis area — including St. Louis Public Schools, Kirkwood, University City and Ferguson-Florissant — that have made the program available to their students. Any Missouri students studying any of the world languages in districts with the program are potential candidates for the Seal, which is attractive to potential employers and is endorsed by a number of Missouri businesses including Mastercard and Ameren.

Many universities, community colleges and public and private high schools in the St. Louis area offer both certified and elective language courses. Parents who want their kids to embrace a deeper language knowledge at a younger age might consider enrolling them in the St. Louis Language Immersion School, a K-8 public charter school with three language programs in French, Spanish, and Chinese, as well as dual language immersion programs for grades K-5.

In addition, many schools at all levels have exchange programs with schools around the world. Families often find that hosting an exchange student is a great way to learn about other languages and cultures.

The Center for Global Citizenship at Saint Louis University. PHOTO: MICHAEL THOMAS

Language Opportunities for Adults

Young students aren’t the only ones in St. Louis who can enjoy language opportunities — there are plenty of immersion programs for adults, too.

For example, organizations like the Alliance Française de Saint Louis foster an appreciation for individual languages and cultures; Alliance Française offers French classes and tutoring, language certifications, a library and other resources and activities. More broadly, the International Institute St. Louis presents a number of volunteer and internship opportunities that give participants a chance to regularly engage with foreign-language speakers. The organization provides essential community integration services to more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from 80 countries each year.

St. Louis is an extremely diverse city with a robust immigrant community filled with multilingual citizens, some of whom speak three or more languages. Native St. Louisans can learn many phrases and customs just by shopping and dining at the many immigrant-owned local businesses that add to our region’s rich tapestry.

Opportunity abounds for our foreign-born population, too. The St. Louis Mosaic Project, a regional initiative within the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the World Trade Center St. Louis, is working to transform St. Louis into the fastest growing metropolitan area for immigration by 2020, in part by engaging business leaders to hire more international talent and connecting local immigrant entrepreneurs to business resources. The organization also works with local universities to assist international students as they prepare for life in St. Louis after graduation. Many of St. Louis’s foreign-born residents are familiar with multiple languages, which is attractive to employers.

With resources like these, St. Louis increasingly is positioned to help workers land well-paying multilingual jobs.

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