Brits and North Americans typically appear low down the league table of second language proficiency. While there are many reasons for this there is no denying that the global power of English plays an important part. But are organizations missing a trick and relying on their non-native English speaking employees to learn English as opposed to a much more collaborative program? More and more CEOs and C-Suite are waking up to the fact that language training is serious business and business critical – whether it be establishing a corporate language to drive operational efficiency and collaboration or foreign language programs to engage with clients on a local level.
English – the world’s lingua franca
English has been the established lingua franca since World War II. Politics, diplomacy, business, entertainment and social media have all succumbed to the power of English. English is more often than not the language that non-native English use to communicate with each other – a powerful tool indeed.
With this being said, it is one tool in a toolkit of many languages. Statistics show that only 7% of non-native English speakers in global companies believe they can communicate effectively at work. If this is the case, there is a very strong business case for organizations to invest further in corporate language training programs that truly transform their employees’ working lives.
Investing in language training – the key benefits
This type of linguistic investment isn’t just good for an organization; it has enormous benefits for the people within the business, both personally and professionally.
Yes, learning a new language is a significant investment in time, energy and money, but it’s an investment with a strong and worthwhile return.
- Improved overall performance level
- Increased employee productivity
- More effective communication
- Improved level of customer service
- Your global team feels valued and gains a great sense of achievement
- Increased export sales as your customer relationship is rooted in mutual understanding
- Reduced conflict and bias (conscious or unconscious) as empathy and understanding grow
- Better cross-border collaboration between teams and offices.
- The cultural benefits
Knowing a language also means understanding a culture. Insensitivity or cultural faux pas can have a huge impact on your company’s reputation and internal management, especially as attitudes towards business, the way they are run and views on management styles can vary greatly in different cultures.
Language training and intercultural skills have a strong connection.
They make us better adapted to living in a diverse society, more internationally minded and better at resolving cross-cultural conflicts.
Those benefits couldn’t be more relevant to the business world where organizations need to become more globally focused as they work in different markets and cross-cultural barriers.
If a business has any chance of understanding its local customers, their cultural identity must be understood, and they must be able to understand your business. Speaking the language is a vital step to fulfilling those necessities.
- The economic benefits
“The UK economy is already losing around £50bn a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce,” says Baroness Coussins, chair of the UK all-party parliamentary group on modern languages.
“In 2011 over 27% of admin and clerical jobs went unfilled because of the languages deficit.”
Imagine the economic impact that those contracts would have had if the language barrier that caused them didn’t exist.
- The personal benefits
As well as making it easier to spend time living, working and studying in different parts of the world, language training can also confer a considerable competitive edge in today’s job market. And this applies even to native speakers of English, used as a lingua franca across much of the world.
- The networking benefits
Learning a foreign language opens the door to a much bigger personal and professional network. Why? Because people generally trust and engage with you more if you can speak their language.
Knowing how to speak the ‘local language’ can remove the initial ‘stranger barrier’, and apprehension that might exist. It can make you appear more like one of their own and earn you more trust.
Understanding a language also means that you are more likely to understand its cultural norms and traditions of etiquette.
It opens you up to a large swath of professionals and individuals who speak the same language, considerably widening your network of useful contacts.
- Open up a global world
Spend a day speaking and even thinking in another person’s language and the possibilities for understanding their cultural identity, attitudes, opinions, thought process and attitude to others are endless.
If people learn another language, they inadvertently learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too.
Developing an organization-wide language learning strategy in an increasingly global world is vital to breaking down communication barriers, and building truly collaborative organizations. The business benefits of learning a foreign language are matched by the personal growth and development that every one of your multilingual team members will both enjoy and benefit from.