It pays to be bilingual

It pays to be bilingual – literally. That’s the idea behind the establishment of the Zone Multilingue kiosk at the 10th annual Quebec City Job Fair.

Zone Multilingue offers free evaluations for job-seekers wishing to measure their second-language proficiency. “Mostly there will be French-speakers looking to test their English,” said Jean-Sebastien Jolin Gignac, co-ordinator of Zone Multilingue. “But there will certainly also be English-speakers wanting to evaluate their French.”

The tests are meant to give job-hunters a sense of which positions they would be eligible for based on their competency in their second language. “When an employer says that they’re looking for a bilingual applicant for a position, this means something different in Quebec City than it does in Toronto or in Washington,” said Gignac.

Zone Multilingue will also steer bilingual candidates toward the more than 60 employers at the fair that are looking specifically for applicants who speak both of Canada’s official languages fluently.

For people still working on their second language, the kiosk will provide information on where lessons can be taken and what services are available to complement the learning process (“such as the QCT,” said Gignac, who is also assistant executive director of the Voice of English-speaking Quebec).

One Quebec City provider of language lessons is the Eastern Québec Learning Centre, which will be lending Zone Multilingue several of its teachers to administer the language tests.

“We believe in the value of being able to converse in both official languages,” said the school’s director, Bruce Willett. “The EQLC is happy not only to be calling attention to the services we provide, but to be part of a team that is promoting multilingualism in a part of the country where it is so important.”

Last year’s Zone Multilingue tested over 400 attendees, and Willett expects to see at least that many this year.

According to Marcel Bérubé, president of Quebec Multilingue, the organizing body behind the kiosk, dedicating time to learning a second language can be an important investment, one that has the potential to pay both cultural and financial dividends. “People can increase their base salary by at least 10 per cent by learning a second language,” said Bérubé, who also serves as president of Groupe Perspective, a Quebec City and Montreal-based human resources firm. “We’re always, always looking for bilingual candidates,” he said.

The Zone Multilingue is not only meant to promote bilingualism among individuals, Bérubé said, but also among organizations. “In this economy, if Quebec businesses want to grow, they need to learn English; it just makes economic sense,” he said. “Every employee should have a second language in his briefcase.”

To that end, Bérubé encourages all of the employees at his headhunting firm to take lunchtime English lessons. “We’ve been doing this for seven years and now many of our employees have excellent English and can take on English-speaking clients all over the world.”

The Job Fair, which runs April 11 and 12 at ExpoCité, is expected to attract roughly 13,000 visitors and hundreds of employers. Besides Zone Multilingue, the fair will also host free workshops and provide a forum for job-seekers to consult with human resources experts.

For Quebecers looking to learn a second language, the EQLC will be giving away two 45-hour second-language courses, which will go to the winners of a draw.