According to the British Council, the UK’s lack of foreign language skills is thought to be costing our economy £50bn in missed trade and business opportunities each year. And it’s not just about big business—in 2011 over 27% of clerical and administration jobs went vacant because of the languages deficit.
Entrepreneurship isn’t simply about technical skills. It’s about understanding people, markets and trends. Taking the time to learn another language not only helps businesses source international opportunities but maintain lucrative global relationships too.
While we recommend professional translation should be reserved for the experts, here are five clear benefits to business owners of learning another language.
Building a network is essential to a company’s success
The more languages you command, the more doors you open to global communication. As a monolingual, you’re cutting off 62% of potential global business exchanges.
Being able to conduct business in multiple languages also adds a key personal touch that’s proving ever more important in competitive industries. “Many businesses will rely on the help of translators, but we have found that investing in a dedicated service has led to stronger relationships with clients”, says Ciaran McCabe, partner at solicitors Moore Blatch. “[T]he majority of work the firm receives under this service is through personal recommendations,” he adds.
Globalization is now seen as the foundation for a successful business. Therefore, learning a second or even a third language gives you the communication skills you will need to create the global business deals your company needs to gain success over your competitors.
Your listening and decision-making skills will be greatly improved
We don’t just mean ‘listening’ in the basic sense of the word, but our ability to ‘listen’ to other linguistic and cultural perspectives.
Having a multilingual staff base can help SMEs and startups pick up on international market trends, conduct linguistically-relevant research and target local needs to create relevant and specific business and marketing strategies.
A study by Scientific American found that thinking in languages other than our mother-tongue makes us better decision makers. This relates to a psychological study that shows we conceive of subjects with less emotion in a secondary language than we do in our native tongue.
In practical terms, this makes us more resistant to conditioning, bias and prejudice, which makes us more rational when it comes to weighing our business options.
You can avoid finding yourself on a list of ‘Top ten translation fails’
Because they often involve a play on words or a reference to culture-specific concepts, corporate slogans have become especially treacherous for businesses in the global marketplace. Even the creators of Google Translate have conceded their application is imperfect when it comes to rendering the nuances of discourse, and it’s not just SMEs who fall victim.
When Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market, it did so under the brand name Benzi, which translates locally as ‘rush to die’. When KFC followed suit, its slogan ‘finger-lickin’ good’ became downright cannibalistic. Taking your business global thus presents the challenge of how to achieve the same objectives with different cultural idiom.
Others have had more success: the phonetic translation of ‘ke-kou-ke-la’, which is how Coca-Cola first attempted to brand itself in mandarin, is ‘bite the wax tadpole’. With just a little bit of tweaking, mandarin-speaking advisors at Coca-Cola were able to find the close equivalent of “ko-kou-ko-le”, which has the more appropriate sense of “happiness in the mouth.”
Multilingual copywriters can identify key brand qualities and portray them in a way that perfectly resonates with your target audience.
You’ll reap the benefits of multilingual digital marketing
Tech experts at Mashable say that communicating online in multiple languages can boost a company’s page rankings and SEO. They assert that “the saturation of key search terms on non-English language websites hasn’t reached anywhere near the level of the English-language web.” This means that businesses can attain lucrative positions on search engines far easier on the foreign language Internet.
Search Engine Journal also asserts that “establishing a global presence across all social media platforms will help increase your brand awareness”, helping companies meet their marketing goals nation by nation.
There’s a hugely lucrative opportunity out there ready to be explored if you can command multiple languages.
So, which languages should we be learning?
According to Entrepreneur, the six top languages for all global-minded entrepreneurs are Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic and German. Latin America and Central Asia are among the globe’s fastest emerging markets, while Germany remains a major centre for finance and manufacturing in Europe.
French is also up there as a useful bridging language for businesses that operate both in the EU and globally, and Japanese is in the mix for those trading in the asiatic world.
But it doesn’t stop there. Forbes counts Computer Programming among its ‘3 Languages Needed By The Next Generation Of Entrepreneurs’!
It seems we all have some learning to do.