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.

Do you agree with Amy Cappellazzo that bilingual individuals who have overcome adversity have more potential and are more creative?
Do you agree with Amy Cappellazzo that bilingual individuals who have overcome adversity have more potential and are more creative?

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

89 thoughts on “Are you bilingual and have overcome adversity?

  1. 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. 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…..
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  3. 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.
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  4. 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.
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  5. 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.

  6. 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… 🙂

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  7. 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. 🙂
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  8. 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.

  9. 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.
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  10. 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?!

  11. 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.
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  12. 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.
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  13. 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.
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  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.
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  21. 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.

  22. I think speaking more than one language is great and overcoming adversity is definitely a good character builder. I'm just not sure that's all there is to the conversation. Not all English cultures are the same or even similar. A pristine CV may or may not be reflective of a padded life. Adversities don't just happen at work. Growing up in Quebec and working in communications and government relations I've met more than one incompetent bilingual person and many competent unilingual professionals. If you had to be black and white, then I think she has a great start, but I would not apply that kind of restriction on myself when hiring.
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  23. I am bilingual – I am fluent in dutch and english and can read some French and German and I have certainly had my share of adversity but whether or not I agree that these are necessary in order to do a great job is questionable. I have met many people who speak only English and never experienced any adversity throughout their working years yet were outstanding employees. I guess it’s like with everything else – when it comes to people, you really can’t generalize.

  24. I think she has a point. Speaking more than one language makes your brain engage in ways it otherwise would not. A perfect resume is a red flag; not so perfect is more realistic.

  25. I appreciate her argument, though I can't say that I am in total agreement. Plenty of well-rounded smart people are mono-lingual and this doesn't mean just the English language. I think body language is pretty much universal, or that's been my experience. Blip in the resume? I think shher opinion is a bit elitist.

  26. I do agree with her about the bilingual bit. Americans have gotten lazy when it comes to learning other languages because you can get by on English almost anywhere. Not sure I agree with her comment about "I need to see some blip on the resume." The resume itself is like a splash of makeup. It don't know why people even read them. About the only thing I used resumes for was to give me some prompts on questions to ask when I met a job candidate.

  27. I think it is a way of sorting resumes into “no” and “maybe.” I agree that perfect people who have had no blips or obstacles and who have always felt entitled are very dull and not fun to work with nor receptive to taking chances on or contributing new ideas. I’m not fluent in other languages but have studied several and hope that wouldn’t make me a definite “no.” Not that I’m looking for a job!

  28. I am not sure about this premise. If she overlooks all those who are not bilingual she may very well miss out on some people who may be just what she needs to get the job done. You might say I am a bit prejudice because I am one of those people who are not bilingual and I don’t think that makes me any less competent than someone who is.

    Also, being dyslexic I work very hard to make sure my resume is perfect. It doesn’t mean I’m a sheltered person. I’ve faced adversity in my life, you just wouldn’t know it from my resume.

  29. I agree that a world view is important however a requirement to speak a second language seems a bit of a stretch. Many people can possess the qualities she seeks without a second language just as many people lack the qualities she seeks and speak many languages. It seems to me her outlook is contrary to the qualities she would like others to have.
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  30. Hum … as others have said I hear and appreciate her stand, though I cannot in all honest agree with it. I believe it's too restrictive. Many people of all cultures and walks of life have overcome adversity. To me this is just too much like labeling people and I've spent my life fighting against that. Still I respect her position and I honor her courage in standing up for her beliefs. Thanks for such an enlightening post!
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  31. I do not agree with her 100%.
    There are many smart people who just speak one language and I feel may be she is not giving a chance to an extra ordinary person who can be of great help.
    But this is true that if a person is bilingual he can have a good comparative behavior as learning more languages open your mind and broaden your vision.

  32. It sounds like she is ruling out some people just because they do NOT speak a second language? While I always (ALWAYS) compliment someone who I know speaks more than one language, what I do agree with her is that because maybe American's are usually not in that category, it has to make me wonder why? But I do think that unless it's needed or enhances the job, to make it as a requisite for hiring, is dangerous in any country for any company. Good post Catarina!

  33. I have mixed feelings about her "assessment". I believe that having the ability to speak multiple languages is an asset and demonstrates some scholastic advantage, but I am not convinced of the connection to creativity. I studied three languages, never became fluent at either, but did extremely well while taking the courses. In fact there were times when I scored higher on foreign language proficiency exams, than on English exams. For me, it was more about the challenge of something new. Like anything else, if you don't use it, you often lose it. With the exception of Spanish, which I often do put to use, the opportunity to utilize either Hebrew or Swahili rarely surfaces in my daily life. Yet I do consider myself to be rather creative. I do believe that those who have experienced some adversity in their life journey, often are hungrier, more driven, knowing that from whence they came, is no place they want to return.

  34. I think speaking another language is just another skill. The advantage of having this skill is based on the requirements of the task or requirement. I think there is no inherent advantage to having this skill.
    Conversely, speaking one language does not lessen your other skills or your creativity.
    In business, having that skill is useful when it is required of you for your position. That is why companies hire people for translators, so they do not have to hire people who have one skill at one task, and also require them to be efficient at a 2nd language.

  35. Good luck to her and her hiring practices. I hope there was more to this and all we got was a small clip. I do agree that language ability does open minds but I don’t agree that this makes someone a better employee necessarily. But I do think she should be able to hire whomever she wants without justification.

  36. I don't speak a second language (although I took French in college and have a basic understanding). I think Americans are the worst at second languages. When you hear foreign languages being spoken in NYC it's usually people who have immigrated here or are tourists. I think we should start teaching young children another language as soon as they enter school. I do believe it helps you to think differently about the world.
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  37. Although possessing more than one language certainly helps a person think differently and use their brain a bit more, I dont think it necessarily makes one less creative. Many famous (and not so famous) creatives have made their careers and hobbies without knowing even a word of another tongue.

  38. In the end this is her right. An interesting example of how her screening and assessment choices could make her dismiss people who might be excellent is my son who's dyslexic. He's compensated but there's been a lot of research showing if you have a learning disability in one language then you usually have the same difficulty in others. So when he was in high school and his French teacher sent home a really negative assessment of him saying he was lazy and could do far better than c plus we took his comments on how, basically nasty, she was being, seriously and removed him from her class. I feel the emotional abuse he was suffering under her far outweighed the benefits of a second language.

    Now he's studying computers in college and doing very well. All my book covers have been designed by him. Other successful dyslexics include Anderson Cooper, Richard Branson,Erin Brockavich and Steven Spielberg. I,myself, would not want to risk losing the chance to have such people work for or with me because of my own prejudice, but it's entirely her choice.

  39. Learning or having a grip on more than one language is always good, this way you can learn their culture, values and make some good friends as well. Like i did.
    But discrimination plainly on the basis of languages that you can speak is absurd. This means somebody who speaks more than one language is a better candidate then you in the eyes of HR, even before you meet for an interview?

  40. Interesting about her wanting only people who can speak a second language. I know many people who do, but they can't always get every job done. Then I know some math and science people who are great at tech, but don't do well at anything verbal, even English. I would hire them in a second if they could do a great job at a tech job, as long as they could keep up with the basics of communications.

    Having experienced adversity in life does help overcome future obstacles. I think it's important at a young age to learn to struggle. There must be a creative way to say this on a resume and still look good.
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  41. I can understand her wanting to look beyond the resume and get at qualities and traits less tangible to document but which help one be more successful on the job. I don't think her approach is the best. It is great to speak more than one language and I believe it does help one think and observe in different ways, but it is a stretch to say it definitely makes one more likely to be creative, interesting, and able to analyse and solve problems. Learning languages comes easily to some people. It's a struggle for others, but these people may have skills and abilities more appropriate for the job at hand and aren't necessarily non-creative.

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