Any company doing business internationally knows the importance of being able to communicate effectively with its foreign counterparts. Likewise, a business with a multinational workforce needs to ensure that communication within the organization is as clear as can be. Miscommunication on any level can have a direct impact on the end product or result. From team efficiency and effectiveness, to a failed conversation with a customer or partner – there are financial and strategic implications at stake. With this in mind, it’s easy to see that paying attention to, and overcoming language barriers has to be part of a multinational company’s overall strategic plan.
At its core language learning in the multinational workplace is about effective communication. It’s about the ability of coworkers to understand each other and being able to express ideas and solutions effectively and confidently. It’s about companies making sure employees are working at their highest capacity and that messages to customers and business counterparts are clear and precise.
English is most often the common language used in the international business world, and while many of those who seek opportunities abroad or in a multinational environment have some English skills, the level of proficiency varies widely.
If the local language is different from the working language there is another dimension to contend with. Having a basic command of the local language can make a big difference in gaining a greater cultural knowledge and feeling more settled – both important factors when considering someone’s ability to perform and engage in the professional sphere.
When asking expats what they most worry about before a move abroad, learning the language is one of the main concerns. Questions such as “how hard is it going to be?” and “to what degree do I need to learn the language” are common, along with “how long will it take?” and “how will I go about learning?”
The biggest obstacles to learning a new language are motivation and time. If you couple an individual’s worry of how to learn, with a company’s need for clear communication, then it’s easy to see that implementing a plan for language learning is an important strategic task.
Research shows that employees who can stay motivated and achieve their target level of proficiency see real changes in the workplace, such as improved customer feedback, more confidence, and higher engagement at work. In addition, those who make significant progress or achieve their language learning targets gain better career opportunities and work assignments.
According to a survey by Forbes Insights and Rosetta Stone, 44% of employees who have participated in language training report being more engaged at work, 51% say they are more confident and 46% see increased performance.
These numbers support the idea that implementing a company culture, as well as having proficiency goals in regards to language learning is crucial, and it highlights the importance of aligning training with overall strategic goals.
British author John le Carré says this about language learning: “The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking. And the decision to teach a foreign language is an act of commitment, generosity and mediation.”
By: Felicia Shermis
Experts for Expats: https://www.expertsforexpats.com/relocation/should-you-learn-the-local-language/
The Guardian.com: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/02/why-we-should-learn-german-john-le-carre