Some of world’s leading CEO’s, from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to Paul Bulcke of Nestle, have benefited from learning another language. Buckle is quoted on Nestle’s website stating: “Being multilingual creates a stronger connection with peers, employees, and consumers, which is critical for a business like ours.”
Many businesses in the UK recognise the advantages gained by having access to another language. However, a remarkably low percentage of British businesses can consider themselves multilingual, at a detriment to both themselves and the UK economy. For the too few multilingual businesses in the UK, the benefits of operating in another language are many.
Give your business a post-Brexit edge
With Article 50 looming, British businesses may well have to prepare for an eventuality in which English is no longer the primary language of business in Europe. Languages such as Spanish, German and French may well become more significant in the EU, having a knock-on effect for businesses working on the continent.
According to London Translations, British businesses will have to adapt to the changing conditions as the English language becomes less dominant in Europe in the wake of Brexit, pointing out that “although it’s likely English will continue to be spoken in Brussels”, the demand for “businesses able to communicate in a foreign language will only become greater.”
This theory is supported by research from the British Academy’s Born Global project which found that 70% of UK SMEs agree that future executives will need foreign language skills. The lack of multilingual people and businesses in the UK currently costs the country £48 billion a year, a staggering 3.5% of GDP.
Although these figures might make for grim reading for British businesses, London is still an attractive place for business to set up shop, and it does mean that companies who can grasp the nettle and translate their business look set to reap the rewards.
Communicate clearly and export effectively
As we now live a globalised society, the likelihood of doing business with people whose first language isn’t English (or someone who doesn’t speak English at all) has never been greater. Between 5% and 8% of UK businesses export to the EU.
Other estimates put the figure at around 11%, that’s not even taking to account other huge global markets such as India, China and South America. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that the number of businesses that actively export rose from 32% in 2012 to 39% in 2013
One market that offers immense opportunity to British businesses is China. Over the past 35 years, China has achieved extraordinary economic performance thanks to their market-oriented reforms. From 2004 to 2011, the value of UK exports to China quadrupled to £12.5bn.
However, China ranked just 47th among 70 countries in an international English proficiency survey, meaning that monolingual British businesses can not assume that they will be able to communicate well in English. Having access to another language will ensure that you don’t have to limit your expansion to just English speaking countries or businesses.
Some British companies are using the demand for multilingual businesses to their advantage whether that’s translating their website into multiple languages or, as PR agency Technical Publicity have done, only hiring bilingual staff. Speaking in The Guardian, founder Sylvia Laws puts the growth of her business down to this hiring policy. For businesses running campaigns in foreign countries, mother tongue speakers are vital.
Strengthen your brand at home
Becoming multilingual doesn’t just help businesses connect with audiences in foreign countries, it can also help connect with communities closer to home. A recent launch for businesses to use the Welsh language has been supported by local government. “Using the Welsh language is part of good customer care”, says the Welsh language commissioner Meri Huws.
The 2014 Common Sense Advisory Group survey found that 75 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product if the information is presented in their own language. Even if the consumers list English as a primary language, you can still win customers over by speaking a language which appeals to them, not just a language that they speak. In Scotland, businesses have benefited from using Gaelic words in marketing campaigns, that’s despite a very small percentage of the population speaking Gaelic.
By showing respect for the culture and country in which you want to do business, your brand is more likely gain followers and engage with potential customers. What is certain is that the advantages of learning another language is as big as the costs for not doing so.