Language Demands of the Labour Market: A Predictor of Students’ Investments into Multilingual Skills?

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European companies are losing significant amounts of business due to a lack of foreign language skills (CILT 2006). The command of languages other than German is nowadays required of almost 70 percent of all employees in Germany (Hall 2020). Although especially the use of the lingua franca English is widespread, Russian and Turkish are among the most useful languages in German foreign trade. In order to meet the labour market demand for multilingual skills on the one hand, and to improve personal career opportunities on the other hand, it appears important to motivate students to invest in their multilingual skills. According to rational choice theoretical approaches (e.g. Becker 1964; Boudon 1974), the perceived labour market value of multilingual skills can be assumed to be a potential determinant of students’ investments in their language skills and, as such, of their actual language skills.

Using questionnaire data and language test results from the third wave of the study “Multilingual development: A longitudinal perspective” (MEZ), we investigate (1) how mono- and multilingual secondary school students perceive the labour market value of multilingual skills with respect to the realization of their individual occupational aspirations and (2) how the anticipated labour market benefits of multilingual skills are related to the students’ actual language skills. We focus on the school-taught foreign language English and the participants’ heritage languages Russian and Turkish. We estimate ordered logistics regression models to identify background-adjusted differences in the importance multilingual and monolingual students attribute to multilingual skills. Further, we estimate linear regression models in which students’ language skills are modelled as a function of the importance they attribute to the respective language skills. We find that both mono- and multilingual students are aware of the importance of multilingual skills in realizing their personal occupational aspirations. The analyses further reveal that multilingual students’ perceptions about the value of their multilingual skills are a significant predictor for their actual language skills as measured by our test instruments, whereas no systematic association was detected in the group of monolinguals.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage Development in Diverse Settings : Interdisziplinäre Ergebnisse aus dem Projekt "Mehrsprachigkeitsentwicklung im Zeitverlauf“ (MEZ)
EditorsHanne Brandt, Marion Krause, Irina Usanova
Number of pages33
PublisherSpringer Fachmedien Wiesbaden
Publication date15.11.2022
ISBN (Print)978-3-658-35649-1
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-658-35650-7
Publication statusPublished - 15.11.2022