Are you bilingual and have overcome adversity?

If so, you are likely to be creative, interesting, able to analyse and solve problems.  At least that’s the opinion of Amy Cappellazzo of Christie’s International in New York. Watch a short video of her discussing her strategies for hiring creative people with The Economist: 

Amy Cappellazzo is unusual in the sense that she is adamantly against being monolingual that many of her fellow Americans think is fine because a lot of people speaks English.

She only hires bilingual people and is convinced that speaking any other language, useful for Christie’s or not, forces people to think in different ways and understand other types of jokes, body language and also enhances a persons ability to analyse.

Don’t have an airtight resume if you want to work at Christie’s

If there is not some kind of weak point in a CV she does not trust it.

Too perfect a resume, at best, belongs to a person who has been in a padded environment all life and who,  most likely, is not very interesting. That kind of person is not for Christie’s. She prefers a CV that shows that the applicant has driven off the road at some point and managed to get back on track again. That kind of people will be of benefit to Christie’s.

Do you agree with Amy Cappellazzo that bilingual individuals who have overcome adversity have more potential and are more creative? Or do you believe people who have sailed smoothly through life are a better bet? Are you also of the opinon that speaking more than one language makes you better able to understand people and a better analyst? Or do you believe English is enough since plenty of people around the world will, after all, be able to understand you?

Video: The Economist – You Tube

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46 Responses to “Are you bilingual and have overcome adversity?”

  1. @undefined Says:

    Totally agree but maybe because she's described me and my eclectic résumé. It's true that you are more interesting and resilient if you've fallen on your face and survived. Living in another country gives you a greater appreciation for others and how good we have it here.

  2. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points that makes sense Patti.

  3. Geek Girl Says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. Her argument makes sense, but I also think it is flawed. Just because you do not speak more than one language or you do not have a blip on your cv does not mean you cannot think in the way she desires. She may very well be depriving herself of some really good creatives. Just sayin…..
    My recent post Funny Thing About English…

  4. catarinaalexon Says:

    Maybe Cheryl. Are you bilingual? If not, maybe your answer would have been different if you were?

  5. Geek Girl Says:

    When I was in high school I took French from an instructor who was fluent. The moment we walked in to that classroom we were no longer allowed to speak English. Later in life I took Spanish. Unfortunately I am one who has not used it so I have lost most of what I once knew.

    I have a friend who is a director at his company. He has no degree. He is like this programming savant. He can just look at a programming language and start using it. If his company had decided as a policy not to hire anyone without a degree, they would not be benefiting from his talents today.

    I just think that each situation should be evaluated on its own merits. If you need a second language to do the job, it is a requirement. But to say your creative juices will not live up to someone else's because you don't speak a second language may be depriving you of the very person who could help you.
    My recent post Clutter In Need Of Assistance

  6. catarinaalexon Says:

    Definitely Cheryl. She is generalising, and there are of course exceptions to every rule, like your friend.

    Swedish, and American for that matter, companies fall flat on their faces in Saudi Arabia because they don't understand the Saudis. Learning Arabic at school isn't much of a help. You need to live there, integrate and understand how they think. From what I understand that's the sentiment she was trying to convey by saying bilingual.

    By the way, you really have faced adversity, in a different way though, and bounced back. Don't you think that developed you as a person?

  7. Susan Oakes Says:

    I tried to learn Spanish but I do not have what I call the "ear" for learning another language. Other people I know learn and speak another language easily. I am not sure it makes you more creative however some who have overcome adversity seem to to have more persistence. Like most things you can't generalise as she is doing.
    My recent post A Simple Change For The Business Growth You Desire

  8. becc03 Says:

    I believe being bilingual is a great attribute to have but not the be all and end all. I am glad that in Australia they are putting more emphasis on learning other languages. I unfortunately at school wanted to learn French but was unable to as there was a conflict with my schedule (I have travelled extensively to make up for it :) ). I have already started learning Spanish words with my 3 year old, so hopefully he will get an appreciation for learning other languages.
    My recent post My roller coaster ride

  9. Michael Akerib Says:

    This is particularly for true bilinguals or trilinguals – i.e. who learnt two languages right from their childhood and trilinguals who spoke three or more languages from their earliest childhood – I spoke 5 in my early childhood. There is extensive litterature on the topic – Claude Hagège in particular with his refining of the Monier method. Erikson (unsure about the spelling) wrote about resiliency. Am not sure though that there is an advantage, once you have gone on a road less traveled, to return to a more standard 'route'. I, for one, always take the signpost 'Autres directions' when at a crossroad. Good that Christie's thinks it's an asset – headhunters and executive placement specialists don't because they like to categorize people.

  10. findingourwaynow Says:

    I have some concerns regarding this premise. By not looking at others who are not bilingual she may in fact be overlooking a potential (a person) she very well may need to get the job done. I learned that lesson more then once as a supervisor and hirer of middle managers. She may need to consider more diversity with her hiring decisions. Diversity doesn't always mean ethnicity, it also means abilities, including being bilingual or not. You might say I am a bit prejudice because I'm not bilingual, but that can be remedied if, and when, the need arises.

    I would also take issue with her thoughts on the perfect resume as an indicator of a shelter person. As you know I'm dyslexic, and a perfect resume is an absolute for me. If you discounted me based on my resume, you would not know the adversity I have faced in my life.

    Just my thoughts… :-)

    My recent post Simple Three Cheese Lasagna Recipe

  11. catarinaalexon Says:

    You are right that it's not possible to generalise, Susan. But don't forget she is talking about Christie's International. They need the kind of creative people she outlines.

  12. catarinaalexon Says:

    Becc, I honestly believe what she is talking about is understanding other cultures because that enables you to understand what motivates people and understand how to deal with them. Speaking another language is not enough if you don't understand the culture where it's spoken. In my opnion, having travelled a lot is as much of an asset as merely speaking another language without understanding the culture where it's spoken.

  13. catarinaalexon Says:

    Michael, I personally believe that her method of hiring creatives is the way of the future in our global world. But it's more knowing and understanding the culture behind a language that counts. Good luck with your job search.

  14. Susan Cooper Says:

    I do understand that. The reality is we are a global economy. It requires a diverse approach as well as a diversity within the staff as well. In some cases it is required that they be bilingual in others not so much. :)
    My recent post Guest Post by Patrick Huff – Bitches Brew: Beer

  15. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Susan. In the future what she outlines will be the norm for most companies. The global market simply requires understanding different cultures. And even better if a person doesn't just understand, say, the Chinese culture but also speaks Chinese.

  16. Keyuri Joshi Says:

    I appreciate that Amy C. values bilangual abilities as a metric for creative thinking but I'm not convinced that this one metric is an adequate measure. Creativity comes from so many other sources including our natural tendencies, education, life experiences, mentors, etc. I was somewhat turned off that she couldn't "trust" an airtight resume. I think that it speaks more about her deficiency than that of an applicant. While I agree that it is nice to see the failures or reality of any individual, I think that she can draw those out by stellar interview skills…. if she has them. To me, she comes across snooty and that is a definite turn off.
    My recent post Parents, Children, and Election Day Ideas

  17. catarinaalexon Says:

    OK Keyori, have noted that for you it was a turn off. Interesting. Never thought of that possibility.

  18. GuyW Says:

    I guess the hole in my CV is lack of bilingualism :-) I've tried several times to learn other languages, but they just don't stick with me – clearly that part of my brain never got wired up! However, I've definitely overcome adversity, albeit not the adversity of learning another language…

    I do think it's useful to be able to pick up languages (my wife does so very well, but can't add a column of numbers, by her own admission), but there's a lot more to creativity than linguistic skills, so this may be a somewhat one-sided view.

  19. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good answer Guy:-) Personally believe that her ideas will be common practice in the future in our global world. It's more about understanding the cultures of the different languages than learning a language at school. It's all about in Rome behave like the Romans. As for advertisy that will become normal due to the state of the world economy.

  20. @undefined Says:

    I often feel lazy because I do not speak a second language. I've got a lot of company in my country. And I so admire people around the globe who speak their language and another.

    But I've NEVER felt, or been, less creative because of only speaking English.

    I can't say I agree with much of what is said in the video.
    My recent post How Usain Bolt Can Teach Us To Manage Our Personal Finances Better

  21. Paul Says:

    People responding to this "question" appear to be largely out of work- as is my wife, a bilingual German-English and disabled to boot (had a brain tumor resulting in partial paralysis from surgery, but otherwise fine). The issue is not in asking questions but in finding these individuals meaningful employment. My wife has amazing talents to accomplish just about anything she takes on- but no one wants to provide her an opportunity. Any volunteers for that out there?!

  22. JeriWB Says:

    The ability to speak multiple languages does equate to making more flexible thinkers. Many languages contain words with shades of nuance not found in the English language. It's so saddening that more and more languages are being lost. I blundered my way through some high school and college German, but never grew proficient, although I learned enough to hopefully be a good tourist in Munich someday. My study of linguistics made it all to clear to me that my affective filter is simply too high to really become fluent in another language.
    My recent post The Author’s Craft: Bonding with the Joads (Literary Criticism)

  23. Jeannette Paladino Says:

    Unfortunately, I don't speak a foreign language although I took French in college and still understand (somewhat) someone speaking French slowly. I think it's a great asset to be able to speak another language. As you point out, many native born Americans don't speak another language. Of course, we're a country with immigrants who speak literally dozens of languages and more younger Americans are studying foreign languages and perfecting their abilities by studying a year abroad during college.
    My recent post Why Every Company Needs an Accurate Social Media Policy

  24. catarinaalexon Says:

    OK have taken note that you don't agree with what Amy said in the video.

  25. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Henry, it's refreshing to hear her views isn't it. And her points are showing what it will be like in the future.

  26. catarinaalexon Says:

    Paul, most people participating in this discussion are not out of work. At least not the ones I know.

    Sorry to hear about your wife. There is a lot of descrimination in the workforce. Not only against disabled people but against ethnicity, age, women and so forth. When it comes to disabled people, Sweden is really doing a lot to help them. So maybe you and your wife need to move to Sweden. Catch is not speaking Swedish. How about starting a company for your wife? Sincerely hope she gets meaningful employment.

  27. catarinaalexon Says:

    True that speaking a lot of languages makes you more flexible, Jeri.

  28. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Jeannette it's good that younger Americans are studying foreign languages and studying a year abroad to perfect them. Speaking many languages will be essential in the global market.

  29. Fátimah Says:

    Bilinguals, particularly those who chose to become bilingual during their adult or teenage years, and were steadfast in their resolve to become fluent are brave, persistent and determined souls. Regardless of where they are born, raised or living, few have the ability to endure the avalanche of negativity and envy that they may face from monolinguals within their own culture. All people, regardless of their zip code or socially constructed pedigree have had some adversity (be it spoken, highlighted, noted, or not). Don't let the designer, suit, title, stride, accent, degree or "so called" pedigree fool you.
    My recent post Milán International School Scholars (MISS)!

  30. catarinaalexon Says:

    OK Fatimah, so you agree with Amy.

  31. Edward Reid Says:

    I agree with the post and understand the logic in hiring only bilingual persons. However, I live here in Miami and a requirement of almost every job is to be bilingual. I find the bilingual requirement is a way to discriminate not by language but ethnicity. In conducting business throughout the city you find most employees hire individuals who speak little or no English, but claim to be bilingual.

  32. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Edward, what Amy says makes sense, doesn't it.

    Have not been to Miami, or the United States for that matter, for a long time so I'm not able to comment on how the word bilingual is used, or abused, in Miami. It will take time before I visit your country again since my passport was issued in Saudi Arabia. Am not interested in being interviewed for hours after landing at JFK.

  33. catarinaalexon Says:

    Dan, what Amy means by bilingual is understanding another culture. The best way to do so is live, work/study and integrate in another culture. That makes you much more creative especially if it is in a culture completely different from your own such as Japan, China or Saudi Arabia. You learn to think in other ways.

  34. Kelly Wade Says:

    Wow, very interesting topic of discussion. It's hard to say that someone who speaks more than one language would be better qualified, but I do agree that not having coasted through life, and still having a head on your shoulders says a lot about you. Americans are quite stubborn for only believing they should know one language when Europeans can overall speak 3, 4 or 5 by the time they're young adults.

  35. Hector Gonzalez Says:

    We can elaborate about this topic.
    What I can say is following a little example, for instance you all people probably are fathers or mothers maybe brothers or sisters obviously you are or were “children” and probably now you are friends of someone and partner of somebody. Well I’m sure you are definitively the same person with all those loved ones but I´m sure you don´t act in presence of one person in the same way you act with other. You think and act different depends on the people you are related with.
    Well same happens when it’s about languages.
    There is one important thing about it. Is not a rule but works as if it were
    If you have learnt the second language in your native country is very probable you speak the new language in the way you speak your native one. But if you learn the new language in the country of origin the language you are interested at, you’ll learn a very different way to speak the “new language” which make you act, think and behave a little different the way you behave regularly when you put on your head “the other hat”
    It’s a proven fact that people who speaks more than one languages develop more internal connections in their brains so you develop other skills and abilities you had not before.
    I’m not only bilingual but multilingual and what I have to say is having the ability of speaking more than one language definitively helps you in many and variable ways giving to you a competitive advantage in a global world.

    Hector González

  36. mirrorcom Says:

    Very interesting article and the comments received in response.

    I, myself believe that multilingualism (I am fluent in 4, English, French Dutch and Indonesian) in itself does not necessarily make you a creative, but it does open your mind to the cultures and people around you.
    Knowing the language gives you the opportunity to feel the way the people speaking it tick, as so many concepts (or nuances, as mentioned) in one language do not necessarily exist in the other.
    So, getting back to creatives, the knowledge of foreign languages opens a window to seeing experiences in different lights, and describing them in different tones. This can then, if thrown back to your original language (whichever it is) give you a totally unexpected and maybe creative twist in expressing yourself.

  37. catarinaalexon Says:

    OK so you agree with Amy. By the way, you need to have lived, worked/studied and integrated in the cultures that apply to the languages you speak for it to increase your creativity. Have you lived in France, an English speaking country and Holland?

  38. catarinaalexon Says:

    In other words Hector you agree with Amy. That's what she is saying but for some reason call it bilingual. Know that from my friends who have worked at Christie's.

  39. catarinaalexon Says:

    In other words you agree with Amy, Jena. But it's not enough to have learnt a language. You need to have lived, worked/studied and integrated in the country in question in order to understand the culture in question and hence increase your creativity.

  40. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with Amy, Kelly.

  41. Doreen Pendgracs Says:

    Yes, I agree with the 2 points made here: In today's world, if I were in HR, I probably wouldn't hire someone who was unilingual. The world is made up of much more than English speaking people, and many of them are among us. My friend who works in HR in Vancouver (where there is a high Asian pop) gives preferential treatment to those who can speak Mandarin.

    And re perfect resumes it's like perfect lives! If someone doesn't have a few bumps along the way, it means they are always playing it safe and probably not expanding their perspecyives. That is not someone I'd want to have on my team.
    My recent post Winnipeg’s artisanal chocolatier

  42. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes, Amy's strategy is a good one, isn't it Doreeen.

  43. Sirk Says:

    Interesting point to which I do agree.
    And, yes I lived for extensive time in the places where I did learn most of my language skills. It is true that just learning the language gives you a brief but limited insight in the way people live and speak, but only a glimpse in the way they think.
    Having lived in Belgium, Canada, Singapore and Indonesia, I can assure you that learning languages away from people who speak your language forces you to learn the language and is the best way to get a feel for the people, culture and their way of thinking and seeing the world.
    This then gives you different options in approaching, describing and visualizing creative

  44. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good since far too many people believe learning a language at school makes them bilingual.

  45. Ebrahim Says:

    I learned English, Arabic and Hindi apart from my south indian mother tongue. Rather than all the human language, I have learned the business language. I feel I have wasted lot of time by learning management from the professional who saw problems and solutions in their imagination until I jumped into business and created lot of troubles to myself and found the way myself with practical experience. I have practical doctorate in finance management, operations management, manpower management, legal issues, cris management and lastly the stamina to get back to business after all the negatives dumped by society, government and employees.

  46. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good for you, Ebrahim.

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