Languages · International business

Are there still benefits of knowing multiple languages?

Meir Amarin

December 14th, 2015

English is a language widely spoken in our global business world. Mastering few languages used to be a real asset in the past, but today we live in a global village where language is no longer a barrier. More and more global companies have a physical presence in given countries, so language is not a challenge anymore.

The question is: is it still relevant these days...?

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

December 14th, 2015

Meir -

You have a couple of assumptions/assertions built-in that are not quite correct.

- "Language is no longer a barrier." Not true. Language is still a barrier in many scenarios. Doing business between Germany and US? Sure, not much a barrier. But, in India, Japan, China, Brazil and Mexico? Language is still pretty much a barrier.

- Transactional nature. You assume once you communicate a business point (say, contract terms or business deal) in the particular language, then you're all good. But you're negating the human nature of these interactions. The more you can relate to your business partners -in all levels - the easier it'll be to do business.

- Personal Growth. You assume learning a language only has business advantages. I disagree. I also has huge personal growth advantages. Being able to read a masterpiece in its original language is priceless. And the more we read, the more we understand other cultures and points of view, the better we become - including in business!


Roshan Diwakar CTO and Principal Consultant at Xtreme Automation Corp

December 14th, 2015

Multiple Research have shown that speaking multiple languages helps creativity and offers other advantages.

http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/llp/studies/documents/study_on_the_contribution_of_multilingualism_to_creativity/compendium_part_1_en.pdf

It's the same bucket as "Is writing on paper still useful? or "Is hand-drawing stjill useful?"

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

December 14th, 2015

Meir -

Local presence solves communication problem between local branch and local market.

However, communication problems between local branch and HQs will still persist. I've seen this happen - in fact, still happens to me every day!

BTW, it's not just language, but also communication styles.

You'd think successful CEOs that have armies of local people to help them with languages issues in local markets wouldn't have a need to speak multiple languages. However, it is well documented how Carlos Ghosn (Portuguese+French+Japanese), Mark Zuckerberg (English + Chinese) and even Michael Blooomberg (English+Spanish) do this well.

Whether success required them to learn other languages or whether multiple languages led them to success, that's a point for discussion, but I think the distinction is not to easy to make.


Andrea Gentili COO (and co-Founder) at Kobo Funds

December 14th, 2015

Meir
I am actually surprised you asked the question.
You basically gave yourself the answer.... the big corporation environment is a niche.
Big corporations hire usually people having a specific set of skills, including a reasonable level of Business English.
However in the vast majority of countries, SMEs are the backbone of economy (i.e. in Europe you have around 20M companies, more than 95% are SMEs)...and in them the knowledge of English is not common.
Excluding some areas (i.e. Northern Europe) the knowledge of English is very basic and that would be a major barrier to do business.
Last but not least, to reply to Rodrigo ("doing business between Germany and US? Sure, not much a barrier"), there is a lot of hype about several countries "speaking English well"....I can speak for personal experience....stay a while in Germany and you'll soon understand what I mean.
Regards
Andrea
 

Meir Amarin

December 14th, 2015

Good point, Andrea. 
It is not always up to what I think... I was really interested to hear what others are thinking about it.
I have heard from many persons that you can do well and manage with a good English...

Meir Amarin

December 14th, 2015

Great points, Rodrigo. 
In the context of a global corporation, languages are no longer barrier simply because of it local presence. 

Chris Oei Independent Contractor at Realty ONE Group

December 14th, 2015

I've learned some Mandarin so I can do business in China. It's come in handy a few times, even though English classes are required for all students in China and most professionals in China are better at speaking English than I am at speaking Mandarin. Also, I think learning the language helps convince people that you respect their culture and are serious about your efforts in that country.

Meir Amarin

December 14th, 2015

Good point. I do speaks fluently Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, English and Arabic. Sometimes it makes the entire difference in business. It happens not only because of the language but also because of understanding the culture. 

However, I am not sure if the same applies for a multinational corporation. As I mentioned earlier, I have worked for few global corporation. Regardless of the country: Philipines, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, India, France or others, it seems to me that there is a kind of "typecast" which bridges the language gap. I met colleagues from these countries in an advanced leadership program. It was my impression that we are all speaking the same "corporate language", regardless of the country of origin. I guess that this is one of the advantages of a big corporation.

Armand Sepulveda Co-Founder & CEO at Dycap Media Solutions, Inc

December 14th, 2015

100% definitely think knowing multiple languages is a great skill.
Weather you believe language influences thought or the other way around there is no doubt the two are connected. There are thoughts and phrases that work in one language that don't work in others. The reason why they don't work as direct translation is because syntax and thought have made it work for that language and it might not be transferable.

For instance in Chinese dogs are refereed to as the Chinese translation of males. In English dogs are refereed to as males or can be called boys, however if you use the Chinese word for boy to refer to a dog native Chinese speaks would be confused. Which implies native English speakers see animals closer to humans than the native Chinese speakers, hence why we have so many awesome movies with talking dogs!

I also agree with the comments above. Knowing multiple languages broadens your thinking muscle. Which is probably why so many CEOs are multi-lingo.

Sujee Jeganathan President at CSI

December 14th, 2015

We evaluated using this app/tool called http://www.wirl.ca.  

It's a pretty interesting cloud based continuous feedback tool. At the time it may not have been a fit for my organization as a whole, but its definitely something we will re-evaluate in the future.