Just because English is widely spoken in the business world, doesn’t mean it is always the best way to communicate. Taking the time to learn even rudimentary skills in the language of your host will go along way towards improving intercultural relations.
If you are a manager looking to send someone abroad on an assignment, prioritize those in your organization who speak the language of the culture into which they are being sent. Language really does matter. If you are wondering whether it is worth the investment to learn another language or put up the money to support your employees in their language-learning goals, consider the following five points from top business insiders that tout the real-world business value of multilingual proficiency:
1) According to Forbes, successful global leaders keep their language skills sharp to given them increased cultural understanding. They recognize the value of what language can teach them about the culture of their competitors, suppliers, partners and associates. They have the humility to appreciate the gracious gesture of a native greeting to break the ice or seal the deal.
2) It is a good return on your investment. A recent article in the Economist reviewing the Freakanomic podcast and calculation of a 2% increase in lifetime earnings claims that learning a language such as German can mean as much as $128K more in the lifetime of a career. Ask any hiring manager, if there are two candidates on the table equally qualified, the candidate with multiple language fluency often gets preference. In the medical field, signing bonuses are an increasing reality for bi-lingual health care professionals.
3) It will boost your network. Friends of friends will become more approachable. The one person you have been afraid to reach out to because you were not sure what to say will find your interest in the language a deliberate and sensitive cultural move and will respond positively. Your spectrum of potential employers will increase several times based on your confidence in applying for international jobs or looking into multinational companies that wouldn’t even think to consider a mono-lingual candidate.
4) There are fringe cultural benefits to learning a language that you never even considered. Your tastes in cuisine will broaden, music you had never considered before will become a new source of inspiration, the quotes of the history’s greatest influencers will take on new meaning, sporting events will become fresh and unique venues for business deals, foreign currency will become less enigmatic, your appreciation for your foreign partners’ sense of humor will suddenly click, and your taste in art and design will deepen and expand. These are just a few benefits that serve as the tip of the iceberg. For even more reasons, check out this article from the Huffington Post.
5) It is good neural exercise. Healthy people recognize the value of eating well, exercising, practicing meditation techniques and employing routine undertakings that force their mind to grow new neural pathways and increase mental functions. A brain, just like a muscle, will atrophy in the tasks where it is not used. All of our brains economize as we get older and eliminate unused neural networks. Learning a new language or practicing and keeping skills sharp in a second or third language are ideal ways to work against the stultifying effects of age. While there is a plethora of research to support this benefit, click here to see a recent study at Penn State.