Turn language differences into an asset
Language differences can affect your business in many ways, from simple inconvenience to disastrous deal breaking.
Enter an elevator when the workday ends, walk across a busy lobby, or visit a client on site. You’re likely to hear languages you don’t speak, and some you don’t even recognize.
If employees don’t share your business’s common language, miscommunication between co-workers rises. Efforts to connect with communities and markets you want to serve fall short.
Good things happen when business overcomes communication obstacles. Language-ready employees collaborate productively across departments. Your company’s ability to serve customers and companies increases and makes your business relationships stronger – whether that’s in English or a world language.
It’s true that English remains the international language of business. Still, using culturally sensitive language and having a global mindset are crucial to effective communication in the workplace.
In the end, companies faced with language differences inside and outside the business weigh the pros and cons of an English-only workforce. Given today’s high level of mobility, English and world language training may both have their place in your professional development program.
Weighing the pros and cons
The obvious benefit to accepting English as the lingua franca is streamlining the operating language of the organization. As the company expands internationally, incoming employees will understand that they will need skills in the common language.
Because internal communication is increasingly technology-based, there will be no uncertainty about which language will be spoken in a video-conference. Everyone will be on the same page.
But what are the risks businesses face when they adopt English as their official language?
Think of it as a “good English bias.” An individual’s proficiency level in the common language can cloud leaders’ judgment about how suitable that person is for specific assignments and promotions. Decision makers may undervalue or overvalue language skills and therefore misjudge talent.
Managers may be unimpressed by an applicant whose English skills are less polished, though they may, in fact, be an excellent candidate.
Creating idea traps.
These occur when a person has a great idea, but lacks the skill or confidence to express it. Instead of sharing that idea and allowing it to take shape and materialize, it withers and dies in the mind of the beholder. Not only do idea traps limit an employee’s contribution, this language difference also limits innovation and team success.
Settling for the illusion of communication.
There are many possible barriers when native and non-native speakers interact. Accents, tones, and speech delivery all can make communication difficult. Both sides think that they had a good conversation where real communication occurred—only to discover later that they weren’t on the same wavelength. This creates tension within a team and a sense of distrust, not to mention lost time and productivity, and can be especially acute in virtual teams.
When managers make the effort to speak their employees’ language, individuals feel more valued and able to express themselves freely, forming bonds of trust not possible earlier.
There’s plenty to think about when you have a need to add or expand your language training program. Here are four key takeaways you can share with decision-makers.
- Beware of the blind spot language can become. Language shouldn’t be simply an afterthought; if it is, it could be a liability.
- No matter where you’re located, your language strategy is likely to have English playing a key role. So make sure you train your non-native-speaking employees, empowering them.
- Never forget that when it comes to building trust between managers and subordinates, there is no substitute for the employee’s native language.
- Closing language gaps from both sides – English and world languages – gives you the best of all worlds: efficiency, innovation, and a culture of respect and trust.
Challenge or opportunity?
Today, language differences present businesses with both.
According to a report released by New American Economy, “employers increasingly desire workers who speak multiple languages, particularly in industries that provide services involving a high degree of human interaction.”
For a customer service team, a language barrier frustrates parties on each end of the line. In retail, a customer with limited English proficiency (LEP) has reduced purchasing power when they can’t receive the assistance they need. At a healthcare facility, where clear communication is essential, language barriers get between patients and the care they require.
In the US, Spanish speakers represent 64% of the nation’s total LEP population. There are more people speaking Spanish here than in Columbia or Spain. That makes the opportunity to serve the business needs of a significant population great.
Job postings for Chinese and Arabic speakers have seen big jumps. And in recent years, four out of ten job listings for registered nurses posted by the health insurer Humana asked for candidates with bilingual skills.
As the Humana example shows, language skills don’t exist in a vacuum. Instead, employees also need specific talents to do their jobs well. It’s that desired combination of experience and language skills that is in greatest demand.
Researchers have found that companies that nurture different languages in the workplace are rewarded. Multilingualism has a powerful economic impact.
For example, linguistic diversity is a source of wealth for Switzerland. Nine percent of its gross domestic product is attributable to the combination of language skills used in business there. In other European countries, investing in languages has increased their ability to export a greater number of goods.
While it’s encouraging that companies are able to find bilingual job candidates through hiring, that workforce pool can’t meet all of the growing demand. That’s where employer-provided language training comes in.
Rosetta Stone is passionate about empowering companies to conduct business confidently, anywhere on the globe, by helping them close language gaps from all sides. When you are ready to help your organization do its best work by instituting a lasting language strategy, let us help you.33