It is often said to me that the international language of business is English, and in many respects UK and USA businesses trading internationally are fortunate that this is the case, but is our lack of language skills leaving us at a disadvantage in international business and also in our domestic markets?
While working in China late last year, I was astounded at the language skills of the young and dynamic businessmen and women I was interacting with, and it struck me how effortlessly the younger generation of twenty and thirty something business people in China and elsewhere in Asia are able to switch between their native Chinese and any one of six or seven other languages.
Over and above the benefit of being able to conduct business in multiple languages comes the bonus of being able to THINK in more than one language and the mental dexterity which that brings. Each of us use language and our own internal voice to frame our thoughts, and even now as I write this article, I’m using linguistics to convey thought, and the more alternative languages I have at my disposal, it stands to reason that I have more linguistic and hence cognitive pathways to choose from.
For those of us who sadly only have one language on which to base our cognitive thought, it is the equivalent of traveling from London to Munich on minor roads, whereas those with a second of even a third language have access to the whole network, including the superfast Autobahns!
While not all of us are going to be fluent in another international language, just learning a few words can make a huge difference to our ability to do business in another country, since along with language skills comes an element of cultural understanding, and if we understand something of the culture of those with whom we do business, we are more likely to avoid the social ‘faux pas’ that might otherwise blight our relationship before we start.