Being a Multilingual Agent: More Than Just Understanding Your Clients

by James F. McClister


Nadia Rahmani

There are 381 languages spoken in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of course, not every one is spoken by a significant portion of the population, but some language groups number so many that real estate agents and professionals who cannot communicate may be missing out on potentially lucrative markets.

One out of every five people living in the U.S. speaks a language other than English in the home, according to the most recent American Community Survey, and of the millions who speak another language, the overwhelming majority (62 percent) speak Spanish.

“Ninety percent of my business is with the Latino market,” said Chicago-based Century 21 Affiliated Broker Sonia Figueroa, who speaks fluent Spanish. “They feel more comfortable being able to communicate with someone that can speak like them.”

Another of Chicago’s multilingual real estate professionals, Nadia Rahmani, a broker associate with Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, who speaks four languages – English, Arabic, French and Spanish – told Chicago Agent magazine that the benefits of sharing another language with a client are invaluable.

“Being able to speak to someone in their mother tongue facilitates communication and creates a natural bond, particularly when one or both of you is outside his or her home country,” she said. “These buyers are not familiar with the process here, as it is, of course, very different from how things are done in their home countries.”

The American Community Survey found that the most predominate language in the U.S. (other than English) was Spanish, but a close second was Chinese (no discernment of dialect) with nearly three million speakers currently living in the U.S.

In Chicago, multilingualism is more common than it is nationally, as about 30 percent of the metro area’s 7.7 million people speak a language other than English at home, with the most common being Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Tagalog and Chinese, according to Crain’s.

“When it comes to real estate, people do not realize that Chicago is already a global market,” Rahmani said.

Chicago has international schools catering to French-, Spanish-, German- and Chinese-speaking students, a burgeoning tech industry, and is home to a major travel hub. Rahmani explained that Chicago is more than just an investment market for international clients: it’s also a long-term destination.

“Thousands of expats relocate to work in all the international businesses Chicago is known for,” she said. “There are many business opportunities for multilingual agents to help this type of clientele.”

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