The Importance of Languages in Business

Posted on February 25 2015 | Author: Natalya Smardon

If you’re thinking about broadening your spectrum by engaging in international business, it’s important to consider which languages will be most frequently used for interactions with other businesses, clients and customers. Of course, most places around the world have large English-speaking communities and for the most part, English is used by professionals from all over the globe. You may be considering the idea that, knowledge of another language is not needed or not worth the time and effort it takes to learn. After all, why should you bother having multi-lingual employees when English is commonly the default language for communication? There are considerably large benefits to second language use that are invariably overlooked.

The foremost reason is respect. Believe it or not, even if your skills are a little rusty, people appreciate the effort. Showing a willingness to use another language even if you make mistakes demonstrates your confidence, dedication and willingness to connect – traits that are important for all entrepreneurs. Speaking another language not only helps with first impressions, but eases communication with business partners. Having both parties able to communicate in more than one language is ideal, as it can lead to a deeper understanding and thereby aid in a smooth transition from a national to international market. In this fashion, languages help with foreign affairs, correspondence with governments and institutions, and essentially any and all international exchanges. There is a growing demand for multi-lingual individuals as the global market expands, and the world becomes smaller.

If you or your business can be officially labeled as multi-lingual, you will find that more doors are open to you. With increased means of communication, you become more accessible to overseas markets that may have previously been unavailable to you, and can signal boost to reach a more extensive range of markets. Furthermore, you have the potential to access new sources of funding and sponsorship and can provide better services to clients.

Translators / communication platforms
One who is not already convinced on the importance of multi-lingualism, might say they have the use of electronic translators. These devices may be available at every turn in today’s society—apps on smartphones, computers and laptops, tablets and iPads, but unfortunately they are incorrect most of the time. Sure they can get the general idea across, but can you afford to blur the lines in your meetings and discussions? Electronic translators are inconveniently slow, do not understand acronyms, slang, jokes, and most importantly dialects. Having a real person translating and interpreting for you is much more personal, and accurate, and even better if you can do it yourself!

Blog Entry NatCross-cultural communication
Cross-cultural communication is an important aspect of international business that should not be looked upon lightly. There are many customs, gestures and signals that elude the less-traveled individual, which can lead to inconvenient and embarrassing misunderstandings. The last thing you want to do is strain relationships based on cultural miscommunications, but fear not! When you can speak a mutual language or two, it is much easier to explain your actions, discuss foreign customs and clear any confusion and misinterpretations. Here are a few gestures that may be unknown to you:

Eye Contact
In some African countries, it is considered insulting to make eye contact with your superiors. In contrast, Arab cultures see eye contact as very important and it is often constant. The same can be said for Brazil, where people look into one another’s eyes much longer than in North America, as they view the eyes as mirrors of the soul and see this as a way to get to know a person.

Finger beckoning
In North America, beckoning your finger at someone means ‘come here’, but in Malaysia it has an effect of ‘come here animal’. In Indonesia and Australia, it is used to call inferiors, and is an insult. Additionally, in North America the “okay” hand sign means everything is alright. Do that gesture in France, Australia or Islamic countries and it’s a great insult meaning zero, or worthless. Another commonly unknown gesture is the North American ‘halt’. In Iraq, putting your hand out in front of you with your palm facing outwards means hello.

Handing out Business Cards
In Hong-Kong, Singapore or Japan, when someone hands you his/her business card, they will do so with both hands. You have to receive it in both hands, look at it, acknowledge it and then put it into your pocket. Otherwise, it is considered quite rude. Whatever you do, don’t write on a business card in front of the person that gave it to you!

Yes and no
In many countries the nod forward is the symbol for ‘yes’. In Bulgaria, Pakistan and India you shake your head back and forth to say ‘yes’, the way North Americans and many Europeans say ‘No’. In Greece, ‘No’ is represented by shaking your head briefly backward and a mild tongue-clicking.

There are hundred of customs that could get you into trouble, be it manners, body language, verbal queues, forms of politeness, or attire. Do plenty of research before traveling!

Fun Facts

  • Canada's French-speaking population ranks second only to that of France worldwide. It is larger than the Francophone populations of Switzerland and Belgium combined.

  • The number of French-speaking Canadians living outside of Quebec is equivalent to that of entire provinces such as Saskatchewan, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

  • Almost one Canadian in four has French as a mother tongue and close to one Canadian in three speaks French.

  • 1.6 million of Canada's French-speaking population have an ancestry other than French or English.

  • According to the Linguistic society of America, there are between 6900 – 7000 languages spoken worldwide.

  • Not surprisingly, Mandarin Chinese is the most useful language for business after English, spoken by 845 million people in the world's second-largest economy, China. French is no. 2 and Arabic No. 3.

  • Studies from Rosetta Stone have shown that bilingual employees earn on average 10% more in their salary than those that are monolingual.

It is no question that business and language compliment each other. More and more, businesses are beginning to require language to be successful. The end result is that you can only benefit from learning and using a second, third or fourth language. Convinced? Read more from the Government of Canada on Making your Organization Bilingual.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” - Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

Natalya Smardon
Junior Marketing & Projects Coordinator

Resources:
ABC News
The Linguistic Society of America

Photo Credit: Glasbergen






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