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You Can Speak Your Customer’s Language And Win Business If You Wish
Research by the Regional Language Networks shows that 1 in 5 UK companies believe they have lost business as a result of language or cultural barriers. This is because more than 60% of our trade is with countries where over 82% of the population do not speak English as a mother tongue. In the light of this it’s surprising that language skills are given such a low priority. In fact most UK companies do not offer their employees the chance to learn languages. And there is strong evidence to suggest that they should.
A survey recently published by the British Chambers of Commerce showed a direct correlation between the value a company places on language skills and its annual turnover. Companies that were successful internationally were those that encouraged staff with language skills either through recruitment or training. So it seems that some of the best UK companies are using language skills successfully to win business.
So why are languages not taken seriously by more British companies? Perhaps it is because it requires you to be “in the know” like the large, sophisticated international firms. It may be that languages are deemed a bit “intellectual” and we don’t like too much cleverness. Talking football is more our cup of tea!
But the biggest problem we have with our attitude to foreign languages is really a historical hangover from The Empire when we taught the world to speak English and play cricket! We made life easy for ourselves. Now it’s a big culture shock to have to make our way in this big new global market full of other languages.
It is certainly not a problem of aptitude. In fact English speakers have a huge advantage. English contains 30-40% of the words in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Banish forever the idea that we have some inherent inability to learn languages. This is a myth. We can do it as well as other nations if we choose. Besides, many British diplomats, officers and business people have been excellent linguists.
If you really want to learn a language then you can. As a grown up your experience should be much nicer than it was at school. Now, with maturity on your side, you have the capacity to achieve far more. Motivated adults, taught by modern “communicative” techniques, can do very well. Using a professional training provider who knows what they are doing will also help. You may just find that it works and it’s fun!
Remember that language learning is a long-term commitment. Although benefits will be achieved as you progress with your training, language learning is an ongoing process and training is just the beginning. In order to become really proficient in a foreign language you need to get out there and use it.
To reach higher levels of language competence you will need to spend plenty of time living and working entirely in the target language. That’s why people talk about “sink or swim”. Learning to speak a foreign language is very much like swimming – one day you will be able to do it without any armbands!
We all know in our heart of hearts that shouting loudly in English is not the right way to conduct our international business. On the other hand learning your customer’s language is widely recognised to be very good business practice and many companies are already reaping the benefits in their overseas trade.
It’s a fact: languages are good for your business! And, although you hadn’t realised it, as an English native you are already a budding linguist, at least as far as European languages are concerned. And Europe is where we do the most business. So, why not try language learning - you may surprise yourself!
About the Author: Roger Wakefield is a staff writer at:
Transglobal Language Training, (http://www.transgloballanguages.co.uk), helping organisations and individuals to communicate more effectively in the global market.