Hola! ¿Cómo estás hoy? Salut! Comment vas-tu aujourd’hui? Mes oui: expanding linguistic horizons can, in fact, boost business.
The importance of multilingualism was recently highlighted by Ofer Shoshan, CEO of One Hour Translation, in The 6 Top Languages Global-Minded CEOs Should Know.
In it, he not only makes the case for multilingualism in the workforce, but reveals that one of the world’s best known global businessmen, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, regrets not learning a language other than English. What he, and Global CEO’s should learn, according to Shoshan, is languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and German.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, in contrast, showed off his semi-fluent Chinese skills during a question and answer period at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, demonstrating – at least implicitly – the significance of speaking the language of the customer.
Mandarin and Cantonese could be as important as English and French in Canada, due to increasing demographics, according to Mark Evans, a marketing consultant and author of a new book, Storytelling for Startups.
“In some cases, I think it is a good idea to attempt to speak in a second language, even if it’s just a couple of sentences,” Evans says. “The effort will be much appreciated because it is a sign of respect. That said, the attempt should be well-practiced and vetted.”
There are many advantages to multilingualism in the workforce, particularly for companies that want to expand internationally, he adds.
“It gives them a competitive edge because it is easier to establish relationships. I also think multilingualism can be a powerful tool for recruiting top-notch talent.”
Orun Bhuiyan, co-founder of SEOcial is fluent in Russian and French and many in the company also speak French. The marketing technology company based in Toronto has done business with firms whose leadership spoke predominantly Mandarin, Russian and French.
“A CEO — or any executive dealing with foreign business — should gauge a situation: some are appropriate to demonstrate fledgling linguistic skills. Some are not,” he explains.
”Attempting basic sentences and demonstrating a novice ability to speak a language can break tension and develop a sense of camaraderie; however, intermediate speakers that try to communicate continuously in a foreign language can cause issues if the conversation isn’t light-hearted.”
If a business conversation takes a serious tone, he cautions, “linguistic nuances can render the intermediate speaker misinterpreted, and that’s dangerous to the world of business.”
Meanwhile, Stephane Bourque, the CEO and founder of Vancouver-based Incognito Software Systems, finds that since many of their clients are outside Canada, his French and Spanish are integral.
Founded in 1992, the company works with broadband operators around the globe who manage more than 160 million subscriber devices. Many of his employees speak more than one language, due largely to the fact that it is necessary to communicate with their partners, customers and even other offices in Europe and Asia.
About seventy five per cent of his staff are multilingual, speaking languages such as Mandarin and Cantonese, Ukrainian, Polish, Hungarian, and Spanish.
“It helps with global business interactions,” says Bourque.
When on business in China, “we have to bring a sales director to help with the translation. It’s the culture and language that makes it difficult, more than anywhere else in the world, I think.”
He notes that contracts are especially nuanced, delicate, and prone to misunderstandings in different languages.
Three tongues in particular, he advises, might be advantageous to the Canadian CEO. “French, English and Spanish are incredible assets anywhere in the world,” he says.
“In North America, invest in Spanish; it also gets you to understand Portuguese. Spanish is now spoken by a lot of technical people in the US. By far it would open your products to a lot more markets.”
In a world where Globalization is the defining feature of the economy, speaking more than one language is without question an advantage, and with that advantage comes opportunities for gifted linguists to turn that advantage into added value and better compensation.