For any business considering trading overseas being fluent in the local language is a powerful tool in their competitive armoury.  In essence, it demonstrates that an organisation is professional and easy to deal with and sets them apart from the rest.  Having a passing knowledge of the local language won’t cut the mustard in today’s increasingly competitive world as organisations strive to offer a more targeted, local and personal service for their customers.

Earth, courtesy Apollo 17, and probably the most reproduced image of all time

Image found from Flickr Credits

It is so important to be in tune with the local language, and indeed customs, because the wrong choice of words can easily lead to misunderstandings and cause a stalemate in communications.

Free to set up anywhere

We’re continually told that business is global and the internet and the mobile office make it possible to work anywhere. Gaining a slice of lucrative emerging markets is a tantalising prospect. It is a shame the only thing obstructing businesses from exporting their services overseas is the language barrier.

In a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce, published in April 2012,61% of non-exporters (likely to consider trading internationally) cited their lack of language skills as a barrier.

Another worrying statistic is that when it comes to French, one of the most widely spoken languages, of those business owners claiming some language knowledge (73%), only 4% can converse well enough to conduct international deals.

The figure plunges further for Chinese – the language spoken by one of the fastest growing economic markets and tipped by the IMF to increase by 9.5% this year alone.  Only 4% of business owners claim any knowledge of Chinese and less than 1% are confident at speaking it fluently.

Key to everyday business dealings

The importance of understanding the local language comes sharply into focus for any organisation with amalgamation, takeover, or setting up of overseas premises on the cards across South America and China, in particular. In those parts of the world, beneficiaries are legally required to complete treaties, import documents and other important regulatory documents in the local language.

Then comes the onerous task of setting up labour, infrastructure, negotiating the costs of raw materials and supplier agreements. Although viable, lacking fluency in the native language to communicate with contacts and employees at every level puts organisations at a serious disadvantage and can lead to costly mistakes.

Being fluent can boost productivity

When significant language barriers exist in organisations they can have a serious widespread impact on business operations, as highlighted in the 2011 Forbes Insights / Rosetta Stone survey.

Out of 100 executives who manage diverse workforces at large US businesses (with annual revenues of more than $500 million) 65% reported the existence of language barriers between their companies’ managers/executives and other workers.

When asked to select the most significant consequences of these language barriers:

- 67% stated miscommunications leading to inefficiency

- 46% that miscommunication makes collaboration difficult

- 43% that productivity is lower than it should be

- 37% that customer service suffers

- 24% that workers don’t have necessary respect for managers/executives

- 24% that attracting and retaining talent is more difficult

The respondents overwhelmingly stated that workers were more productive when their managers communicated with them in their native language, with 52% agreeing ‘strongly’ followed by 32% stating they ‘agree’.

The research just goes to show that for any organisation considering global expansion being able to converse in the native language paves the way for easier and more productive business.

About Guest Author: Geoffery is a freelance business language trainer.  In his spare time he writes on sites like Business Language Training School - Linguarama.  Where he specialises in teaching Business English.

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