In recent years English has become a global language and the foundation of international business communications. However, recent studies have shown that using English as the dominant company language isn’t always enough to stay ahead of the competition and, to truly stand out, companies need a culture that fosters language learning and multilingualism…
How can multilingualism strengthen your business?
There’s no doubt that the UK and US economies are two of the strongest in the world, boasting a huge global market share and some of the most innovative and forward-thinking companies on the planet. However, despite the astronomical influence these markets have on the global economy, recent studies have shown that businesses that speak a variety of languages have a competitive edge over those that speak only English.
There are multitudes of benefits of introducing language learning to your workforce. It boosts confidence, expands horizons, and fosters communities. But did you know that multilingualism is fantastic for external business relationships, too?
Recent studies have shown companies that speak several languages have more successful international business relationships due to heightened cultural awareness. The studies show that although English is widely thought of as the international business language, companies that solely speak it are losing out to foreign competitors because of a lack of cross-cultural competence.
Overseas businesses outside the UK and US have an upper hand as they can communicate in local languages and connect with targeted communities. And it makes sense — an international business with a team that speaks fluent Portuguese is far more likely to succeed in the Portuguese economy than a team that can only speak English.
Take a page out of Switzerland’s book
Switzerland is a great example of a country that continues to nurture its national languages and is reaping the benefits as a result. A study financed by the Swiss National Research Programme called The LEAP Project shows that the country’s multilingual heritage gives it a competitive advantage worth $38.15 billion. Switzerland is a unique country as it has four national languages — German, French, Italian, and Romansh, a Latin-based language which is spoken by 0.5% of the population.
The LEAP project looked at how Swiss companies deal with the country’s multilingualism — specifically how languages can generate economic value and what impact they have on certain sectors and jobs. The report confirmed the importance of English as a global business language but found the other intermediary languages of Switzerland helped build successful business relationships. François Grin is a professor of economics at Geneva University and the leader of The LEAP Project. “There are many cases where English is not enough and you need more to get a competitive edge,” he says. “It's very useful to draw on a rich linguistic repertoire.”
Grin sees the championing of multi-national languages as more than just culturally beneficial. “The notion that we need to take care of our national languages in addition to English and possibly to develop skills in further languages is something that makes sense not just politically and sociologically but also economically,” he says.
What’s to lose?
We’ve looked at what can be gained from multilingualism in business, but what’s there to lose? A study conducted by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) shows that although English is considered an international language, local languages and cultures are still crucial in business, with companies across the US experiencing a shortage of multilingual employees.
The study, titled “Making Languages Our Business,” states that 90% of employers rely heavily on employees who can speak a language other than English to conduct business. The study also states that 56% of employers expect the demand for a multilingual workforce to increase within the next five years.
The reason for this is our increasingly global network. Companies are expanding into domestic and international markets at rapid rates, and local language knowledge is often crucial to forming sustainable and healthy work relations.
The study states that multilingual employees will earn significantly more than their monolingual peers, with Spanish, French and German amongst the most sought-after business languages.
ACTFL argues that there should be greater emphasis placed on the importance of a multilingual workforce, stating “[Foreign language] needs to be recognized as a complementary and often interdependent skill that produces the globally competent workforce employers are seeking.”
The good news
Introducing a culture of language learning into your company can seem like a mammoth task, but Babbel’s offering is just as flexible and forward-thinking as your workforce. By offering the Babbel language learning platform as part of your employee benefit package, you can get the entire company started on their language learning journey without having to coordinate in-house lessons with expensive tutors.
Your employees can carry the Babbel app on their smartphones, learning at their own pace at a level that suits their needs. And to get your team speaking quickly, your employees can join online 1:1 or group lessons with professional teachers. At work they can then practice their new language during a coffee break or as a team in language learning lunches. And, because we get your team speaking a new language fast, you’ll soon be cutting above the competition with a truly international workforce.
Want to integrate language learning in your company as well? Download our free e-book on setting up a sustainable language learning culture here.