We’re all operating within a highly competitive and globalized business landscape. New opportunities are emerging all over the world. As a business owner, you’d be remiss if you don’t look into the diversifying your networks and going cross-border. Though understandably, one thing that typically prevents companies from exploring these opportunities is the language barrier. But have you ever given pause and find out how many languages do you and your employees speak?
As a small business, the ability to communicate and collaborate with customers, professionals, and other companies who speak a different native tongue can actually become a competitive advantage. Not everyone is multilingual. Despite the rise in multilingual households in the US, only around 20 percent of individuals speak more than one language. Because of this, many US businesses struggle to connect with non-English speakers.
Fortunately, developing a multilingual workforce has become more manageable today. To start, you may already have multilingual workers within your organization. Staff members can also take it upon themselves to learn. There are a number of self-help language learning apps like Duolingo and Mondly. Those looking for a more structured program oriented for business communication can also look into Mondly’s MondlyWORKS learning system, which is specifically targeted for companies that want to build a language learning environment in the workplace.
Businesses could clearly benefit from a multilingual workforce. This would allow them to tap into the following:
Opportunities. New markets are emerging all over the globe. Asia, for instance, is now home to the world’s fastest growing economies and populations. China and India already have over a billion citizens each. Southeast Asia is also home to over 660 million more. The Middle East, given their affluence, continues to be a prime market for premium goods and services. Speaking these countries’ languages can help you better engage them in cross-border commerce.
Expertise. Aside from market opportunities, connecting with people from other countries and cultures also opens up access to expertise. Communication and collaboration technologies now allow companies to have geographically distributed workforces. Many professionals in various industries now work in the gig economy as freelancers and consultants. For instance, top tech hubs filled with IT talent are located in non-English speaking cities like Tokyo, Berlin, and Warsaw. With a multilingual workforce, you can easily tap workers from all over the world and have them readily complement your team.
Partnerships. You can also look into partnerships and linkages with other businesses from different countries. You may be able to find suppliers and vendors who can provide you with more cost-effective raw materials, manufacturing, or other services. Outsourcing has become a huge trend across industries. You may also be able to set up local distribution or retail partners who can help you sell your products in their respective territories.
Building the Competency
So how do you promote multilingualism in your workforce? Here are some ideas to build the linguistic competency:
Hiring. One of the quicker ways to gain the ability is by hiring multilingual speakers. Some foreign languages have official certifications that those who claim to speak them can present as proof of their competence. There’s also a growing number of migrants and next-generation speakers who would have native or near-native speaker level competency so you may consider these skills in your next round of hiring.
Training. You can also train your staff to speak a new language. Either hire trainers to conduct classroom-style sessions. Or you can send them out to take short courses. You can also leverage technology and encourage the use of language learning apps. Interestingly, MondlyWORKS now offers a training platform specifically for companies that are oriented specifically towards business communication. The use of specific contextualized examples such as business settings is an effective way to teach and learn a language.
Exposure. One of the most effective ways to develop one’s competency in the language is exposure. This is why expats can oftentimes learn the language in a new country even without formal study because they have little choice but to use it in their daily activities. Have your staff members practice and converse with their colleagues in the target language. You can also fill your breakroom with foreign-language books, magazines, or even play TV shows and movies.
Given how competitive business has become quite competitive, having a cosmopolitan workforce that can tap into worldwide opportunities and work with global talent can open up a whole new dimension for your company.
But aside from these business benefits, promoting multilingualism could also help them not just become better workers but better people as well. Having your workforce learn new languages also exposes them in the histories, beliefs, traditions, and values of these different cultures.
A workforce that embraces diversity are found to be more innovative and are better engaged in their work. Ultimately, all these benefits only bolster your company’s chances for success in today’s environment.