Armin Hopp (Europe) - Why it Pays to Communicate in Local Language

In this post, Armin Hopp (founder and president of dp at Speex) evaluates the importance of a multilingual approach to business communications.

In an increasingly globalized and digitized corporate environment, businesses are operating more frequently outside their own country.  Moreover businesses that operate across borders, or in a different language, are more likely to improve productivity and profitability if their workforce can confidently communicate in the local language.

Companies that are not embracing a multilingual work culture are simply paving the way for financial failure. According to a recent report by the Business Forum for Multilingualism established by the European Commission, entitled Languages Mean Business , a significant percentage of European SMEs lose business every year as a direct result of linguistic and intercultural weaknesses. This is because companies who are monolingual are limiting themselves within their local domain, falling behind their multilingual competitors. The report also highlights that languages are not only needed to boost sales and marketing, but upstream supply chains cross borders to the same extent as international services and finished goods for export.

A company that operates with a vision for cultural openness and mutual understanding will open its heart to better business. Languages provide the key to communicating with clients and operating within multiple jurisdictions. One language is no longer enough to satisfy every communication need. Multilingualism on the other hand, fosters a culture of tolerance. Even simple words such as ‘hello’ and ‘cheers’ can open doors to new markets and new business opportunities.

The focus in business now is on communication, and how that can be effectively achieved across borders. For small companies, multilingual communication can be an asset within all activities, not only for sales and marketing. Effective cross-border communication can help solve problems, avoid delays and enhance productivity across all sectors. Although English retains its leading role as the world business language, other languages can also provide companies with a competitive advantage. These include Spanish, because of increased dealings with South America, Mandarin, because of increased dealings with China and Portuguese, due to increased dealings with Brazil.

Many of the companies we are working with across the world – in fact some seven million users today - are actively incorporating language learning as part of their talent management programs, which nurtures staff from the ground up. Existing language skills within the company can also be identified and used strategically. Companies can look over their recruitment policies, their training strategies and their principles for international mobility.

Taking the right training measures is the key for effective language learning. Companies can encourage staff to use and develop the skills they have already acquired and offer language training in ways that are both motivating and compatible with the demands of the workplace.

The possibilities of new media for foreign languages learning combined with tutor support offers individuals and organizations with greater flexibility on how these linguistic skills are delivered.  Companies are empowered to implement effective blended learning tools that can be customized to suit staff learning needs.

Participation in this multilingual culture needs to start from top management, who can lead the way for the rest of the business. One common reason for staff not learning languages is that line managers are reluctant to make time to train them, or placing learning and development as a low priority compared to day-to-day business activities. In this regard, companies need to create an overarching attitude of encouraging learning and development.

Ultimately, integration of multilingual and multicultural workers is crucial to sustain and grow businesses. Companies need to adhere to staff language learning needs resourcefully, in order to reach out to new target markets and to build lasting, strategic global relationships.

By Armin Hopp, Founder and President of dp, Speexx