Do you have a favorite word or phrase in your own language or one that you’ve learned in another language that evokes curiosity or delight? Particular interest can be drawn from a set of words that have no direct translation; fascinating labels for sentiments that unveil important aspects of foreign culture or history and can hold the key to making deeper and more meaningful connections with the people who use them.
The German word Schadenfreude talks about deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. We’ve likely all been guilty of the feeling, but perhaps those of us from other nations were unaware that there was a single word to describe it. Similar – but not quite the same – is the English notion of gloating whereby we express immense satisfaction at our own good fortune. As another example of a word with a very specific meaning, the cultural relevance of the term ‘chutzpah’ (a word of Yiddish origin) is beautifully broken down in this Malcolm Gladwell podcast.
Our latest Rosetta Stone Commercials give an amusing portrayal of the idiosyncratic vocabulary and phrases known as lacunas that crop up in almost every language. But how do these words specifically relate to the world of business? The relevance lies less in these particular words as in the sense that language learning creates opportunities to form connections with different cultures and their people and to uncover new perspectives. In doing so, we can secure deeper and more meaningful relationships with coworkers, improve our customer relations, and often reveal better business opportunities.
Language learning can improve our ability to form meaningful connections with coworkers.
There are multiple benefits to speaking more than one language. Forming connections with multilingual coworkers is an obvious one.
Effective collaboration through multilingual teams can be challenging. Improving the language proficiency can not only boost productivity, but can also do wonders for employee satisfaction. In many workplace settings (manufacturing plants a prime example), linguistic diversity is common. When synergy is lost across teams of this nature, it’s not only hard for them to achieve optimum productivity and performance, but it can also affect the relationship building that takes place and cause employees to feel isolated and disengaged.
A similar situation occurs in multinational companies where executive teams are required to collaborate across language barriers. High level meetings and correspondence can be challenging, and often when misunderstood. This can disrupt progress or cause confusion between coworkers, which can gently lead to the breakdown in relationships. Here too, better outcomes can be reached when language training is fully supported for all employees. Without an adequate level of understanding, liaisons established between overseas counterparts are, to say the very least, less beneficial than they could be.
Client relationships improve when you speak the same language.
While language learning can certainly enhance internal connections, what is even more vital to business success, is the ability to resonate effectively with customers. It might even be argued that when dealing in overseas markets, sales and customer success teams need to develop an appreciation for aspects of culture and perspective, aside from just language.
Speaking our customers’ language is important, in both a figurative and literal sense.
Foreign languages are much more than just a series of translations for words we already know. In any setting and at any age, our journey as language learners can reveal a collection of new words and meanings, creating opportunities to access the world and its people from alternative perspectives. Since language is the touchstone to all human connections, speaking to customers and coworkers in words that they can easily understand, not only deepens the relationship we’re able to have with them, but it can also incite a sense of comfort and confidence which bodes well for any business partnership.
Former German statesman, Willy Brandt puts this notion in a nutshell; “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language” he says. “If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”
Making an effort to speak a new language leaves a lasting and positive impression.
The simple act of greeting or thanking somebody in their own language, demonstrates a basic appreciation for their culture and identity. Even in a situation where their language skills are stronger than our own, it can leave a positive lasting impression and put business liaisons on the right footing. The action speaks louder than the words themselves; communicating an implicit interest in another person’s culture; enough so that you’ve taken the time to learn something of their language. We all know that doesn’t come without effort, and it is widely received with the same degree of appreciation.
Since in large part, business connections are founded upon trust and respect, it goes without saying that in many cases, multilingual customer facing teams will have an advantage in the global marketplace over those who operate in a single language.
To reference our words with no direct translation, ‘yoko meshi (横飯)’ in Japanese, describes the feeling of discomfort you get when speaking a foreign language. In any multilingual business relationship, we risk one or other party feeling sidelined as a result of their inability to communicate clearly. Rather than experiencing ‘pena ajena’ (the Spanish word that describes feeling embarrassed for someone else), by taking this on ourselves, we naturally help our coworkers, clients or business partners to feel more comfortable, and thus set the stage for more successful partnerships.
Taking language learning to the next level can reap optimum rewards.
With sufficient language skills under our belt, the ability to conduct a full meeting or business transaction in our customer’s native language, reaps even greater and more impressive rewards. With an increased level of comfort, comes a willingness to relax into conversations that can reveal pain points, vulnerabilities and requirements and allow us to target our goods and services more effectively, and to facilitate a better level of customer satisfaction.
Multilingual teams can support global expansion and success
When Ludwig Wittgenstein stated that ‘the limits of my language are the limits of my world’ he could very well have been mistaken for referring to the business world. Technology has incrementally changed the way in which we communicate, enhanced our access to knowledge and extended commercial horizons.
However, on many occasions business growth is stunted in this regard, by the language skills of their employees. As testament to this, 9 out of 10 U.S. employers say they seek out employees with language skills, to help facilitate overseas relations. This comes according to research from Ipsos Public Affairs for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. With the personnel shortages currently existing in all areas of the business market, these multilingual employees are sometimes hard to seek out (especially those in possession of other relevant skills), and companies are encouraged to invest in their existing talent pool to bridge the gap to other cultures and nations.
By building multilingual teams, organizations are able to make better use of their potential and build a thriving network of overseas clients and customers.
Inaccurate messaging can be an expensive mistake
In order to truly succeed overseas, corporate messaging and value propositions need to be tailored to the audience for which they’re intended. The more we invest in building multilingual teams, the more we increase our chances of successfully inserting our business into niche markets around the world. It might seem slightly amusing that some companies slip up in this regard (an opportune moment to remind ourselves of the German word Schadenfreude), but mistakes like this can be costly – not just in terms of money, but also by the way in which they impact our corporate reputation. These unfortunate mistakes can be easily avoided.
Once again, it’s sometimes necessary to move beyond word-for-word versioning. The idiom ‘lost in translation’ was popularized by the 2003 romantic comedy, but describes a challenging phenomenon for many business travelers and multilingual firms. Many of us are all too familiar with the feeling of complete isolation when a group of people share a joke which (sometimes despite perfectly understanding each individual word) escapes us entirely from an experiential or cultural standpoint. It’s a little bit like that to feel ‘lost in translation!’
It’s easy to trip up when commissioned translations are unable to be vetted by in-house employees who better understand the corporate messaging and overall objectives of the firm. Localization refers to a type of translation which, rather than being a word for word version of a text or slogan, looks to interpret meaning for its intended audience. By building more culturally specific terms or expressions into marketing collateral and sales presentations we are able to resonate more effectively with the local audience. Some words, as we have referenced, have no direct translation, but portray significant meaning to those who read and understand them fluently. The best way to global market penetration at its full potential, is therefore to grow and nurture our multilingual in-house teams.
Language training can facilitate communication and improve business outcomes
And so let us come back to the words of Wittgenstein, and consider whether the limits of our language are also, in fact, the limits of our business. Not necessarily. There are of course tailored services and tools that we can use to enhance communication through our business and with clients. We can outsource client services, or form local partnerships to conduct business ventures on our behalf.
Nonetheless, language training is an obvious option, which is often more effective in terms of the long term investment in personnel, and the outcomes that can be achieved. Not only does training support business success in the global market, but it can also enhance internal communication and boost levels of synergy and connectivity that carry immeasurable outcomes for the organization. By prioritizing language skills, we add scope to the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity and prepare employees to thrive in an increasingly interconnected business world.
What is the most successful way to grow international business teams?
In the first instance, it’s important to understand that language learning is a journey, and to have the appropriate measures in place to underpin and support its success. There are some essential steps that support the success of enterprise language training.
Determine the value of language learning
By clearly identifying business goals, and choosing a program that aligns with those, you can better support your employees to achieve the desired results. If you are aiming to enhance communication, then start by finding a language training solution that places the emphasis on that skill. If your executive teams need advanced language training in specific areas, then it’s important to encompass those needs in the solution you select.
Effective communication takes place when learners develop a sense of the language and build an ability to transfer new vocabulary into real world contexts. Guided immersion is by far and away the most reliable way to achieve this natural level of fluency, since it builds on our intuitive ability to decipher language from visual and contextual cues. As we advance, this enables us to unveil the meaning of more nuanced language and to pick up on specific vocabulary or lacunas, which reveal so much of the cultural make-up of a nation and its people.
Conduct a language audit
Only a small number of companies expect all employees to have second language skills as a core competency. Meanwhile, a high proportion report that their employees and businesses would benefit from language training.
Conducting an initial language audit identifies employees’ current level of language proficiency before training begins. In order to do this, organizations typically either employ a testing tool or choose to rely on self-evaluations. Immediate computer-generated results can be the most straightforward solution in providing an accurate measure of learner levels and can establish the most effective language path for each individual.
Set realistic goals
Flexibility is a major consideration for most businesses because few working professionals have time to accommodate lengthy in-personal training sessions in their already busy schedule. For that reason alone, many organizations are trending towards online and blended learning solutions to accommodate their training needs. In addition to offering flexibility in terms of the pace and place in which learning takes place, online platforms also enable careful and consistent tracking of learner proficiency and progress.
By setting realistic goals and expectations for employees, we drive motivation and improve long-term success rates. When learners understand and are committed to working towards pre-established goals, they’re more likely to remain engaged and committed to language learning. If in addition, they are aware of the opportunities for growth and career advancement as their skills improve, then you will soon see the advantages of improved communication seep into your business, and improve your bottom line.
Without wishing to gloat (note the intentional use of that uniquely English word), Rosetta Stone for Enterprise has helped over 12,000 global businesses to reach new horizons and enhance communication through their business. If you long to expand your business by enhancing communication through multilingual teams, or are looking to improve client relations, then we’d love to support you on that exciting journey.
Interested to hear more about how improved communication could enhance your organization?