Want to land a good job? Learn to speak Ghetto!

Want a job that will earn you lots of money? A job that pays you to travel around the world? A job in which your knowledge and expertise will be valued by businesses across the Western Hemisphere?

Then you should study "the language of living in the ghetto", as grammatically and culturally challenged former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called the third most commonly spoken language in the world - the language that the rest of us know as Spanish. Hey, if that's ghetto, then I want to be ghettofabulous!

Seriously, though.

Kids, you want to gain a valuable skill that improves your chances of employment? Parents, you want your kids to be able to have, as Gingrich might say "the job of working in the office"? Learn Spanish. Now.

I love Spanish, and took it all through high school, even taking community college courses with my mother, who understood that Spanish would be the key to communicating in worldwide business in the 21st century. Spanish eventually lost out to Mandarin in my life, much to my mother's initial chagrin and my Russian grandmother's horror ("China? Not Red China! Oh, Jesus! Protect Andrea from the comuneests!").

But I wish I had stuck with Spanish, in addition to the other langauges. Do you know how many jobs there are for technical writers who can read and write in Spanish? The possibilities are nearly endless! Mind you, this is true for Chinese as well, and if I still spoke Arabic, I'm pretty sure I'd have a solid position at the CIA. But Spanish is versatile and useful, and opens all kinds of doors to employment.

Learn Early, Learn Well

One thing about second language acquisition is that it gets harder as we get older. This is a well-studied phenomenon in linguistics - the "language window", or the age at which humans can absorb new languages and speak them with fluency, usually closes around age 13. This isn't to say that you can't become fluent in another language after age 13, just that it is that much harder.

My mother grew up speaking Polish and English, so she understands a whole range of Slavic languages, and used to delight my Yugoslavian college roommate by translating her conversational Serbian with relative ease. I, however, grew up speaking nothing but English, and although it hasn't stopped me from successfully learning other languages, it did make it infinitely harder. (My dad, on the other hand, grew up in Canada learning a Canadian approximation of French, in which "Comment allez vous?" comes out as "Komo tally voo?".)


Speaking a foreign language becomes immeasurably easier if you just plain HAVE to speak it. Trust me - living abroad is the only way I could get my Chinese from basic to fluent. I also think that living abroad is something that all Americans should try, at least once. It doesn't have to be expensive. As much as I would love to live in Costa Rica, I would happily save my money and live in Mexico, or Ecuador, if I was simply trying to learn the language affordably.

It's possible to teach English in Asia and make a decent sum of money while studying a foreign language. Japan, China, and Korea all pay teachers fairly well and require very little practical experience. You've always wanted to learn Thai? Jump on an TESL message board and find some jobs. I always advise younger people to do this, but the truth is, I met plenty of married, older, and even retired people living in Asia, teaching ESL and having a blast learning a new language. It's just that the foreign language skills greatly affect job prospects when you are younger.

I teach ESL to refugee women, and the ones who speak English with their children and watch English TV are highly proficient. The ones who live in Chinatown and never speak to anyone who isn't Vietnamese never really get very far. It's a simply matter of surrounding yourself with a new language - you'll eventually start thinking and dreaming in it. Then you know you've arrived.

Learn Spanish with Newt

Just look at Newt! He's been learning Spanish on the sly, and listen to him talk! Personally, I think his cabeza is a touch estupido if you comprende my Espanol, but you have to give him credit for trying.

Actually, no, you don't.

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Guest's picture

I'm studying Arabic now and it's amazing how in-demand that language is! There's way more demand right now than there are people who speak it (What's the anecdote? There are only 12 people in the US Embassy in Iraq who can speak any Arabic and only 4 of those are fluent?). It would definitely help anyone who's interested in a government job.

There's a new scholarship I've just discovered that provides almost-free language and cultural training in "critical languages" (Arabic, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish and Urdu): https://clscholarship.org/home.php

I work with study abroad students and it never ceases to amaze me how many Spanish majors head off to Spain each year, when Latin American language and cultural knowledge would be so much more valuable in the long run.

Andrea Karim's picture

I've never been savvy enough to apply for scholarships, so I tend to forget about them. Thanks for pointing that out. And good luck with your studies! I love Arabic, but had a heck of a time with the grammar. Chinese grammar is, thankfully, even easier than English grammar. But Arabic takes some adjustment. Mind you, it's all about having a good teacher, too.

Guest's picture

is rather painful to listen to. I'm not even fluent and it was painful! It bothers me when people try to learn a foreign language but just smother everything in the English pronunciation. Ew.

Kudos on just surrounding yourself with the language and becoming fluent. That really *is* the only way. Takes guts to take the initial leap, but once there, 'tis indeed an unforgettable experience. I also taught English in China for some time and had a blast. A bit different for me though, since I am Chinese, and speak some already ... it was good to learn more about my roots but at the same time become disillusioned with my own people dissing me more than my fair-skinned counterparts ... but ah, that is another story for another day. :)

Andrea Karim's picture

Yeah, the American accent can be hard to let go of. I wish Newt had just apologized rather than trying to get down and funkay with the Spanish-speaking world, who probably felt the pain of their language being slaughtered in YouTube even more accutely than I.

Funny-ish story - when traveling in China, my friends and I were in Yunnan, the place where all foreigners go, when we happened upon some other foreigners at a bar - a group of frat boys from a Christian college in Texas. These boys drawled like nothing you have ever heard before. It was incredible. Turns out they were on some exchange, teaching English to elementary school kids in an impoverished village.

As we were leaving the bar, my friend turned to me and said, "Do you realize that there are kids, somewhere in China, running around and shouting "Howdy, y'all!", sincerely believing that they are speaking English?"

It was thus that we happened upon the idea of speaking Chinese in a Texan accent. Try it sometime. It's fay-chang how warr, as we were fond of drawling at each other for months afterward.

Guest's picture

Good article, Andrea! I just spent the last month taking German classes in Hamburg, and I really wish I had had a chance to learn it when I was younger. I did study some Spanish, ancient Greek, and Latin in college, and those are the only things that kept me from going home crying every night because the class was so hard. One thing that's really struck me this last year is how many Europeans speak more than one language. It was a shock for me, since I never really felt the need to speak another language when I was in the US. Now, I'm more motivated than ever to become fluent in German. If anyone is interested, I wrote a post about this last week on my blog called "Have we already been left behind?"

Guest's picture

I've been working away at Spanish for years - and it pays off really nice now, even professionally. I'm a big fan of the personal opportunities that Central and South America provides. There is simply so much to do south of the U.S. it would be a shame for someone not to take the opportunity to learn now. Especially with so many immigrants to practice with now in the U.S.

Andrea Karim's picture

(blushing furiously, but alas, cannot edit typo)

Guest's picture


Great advice for all your readers! I am inspired by great articles, like this one, among the english pf blogging community to keep mine going for my "raza" here in the states.