Language management solves communication problems, offers advice on how to deal with language and cultural issues and gives a useful push to expanding markets in other countries.
A language management strategy makes sense. Here’s why.
Over two in five European small and medium-sized companies are active in some form of international activity. This means more clients, but also, a wide array of them. And most likely, not monolingual.
Language is embedded in every aspect of organizational life. Yet, language management strategies are not as popular as their object of study. Leaders of global organizations are all too hesitant to include it in their approach to talent management.
But maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Language management solves communication problems, offers advice on how to deal with language and cultural issues and gives a useful push to expanding markets in other countries.
Stop the English invasion
English is the most studied foreign language in the world, yes. And it’s the dominant language of global trade. Without basic English skills, companies have difficulty trading across continents and even beyond neighboring countries.
But, as German Chancellor Willy Brandt said “If I am selling to you, then I will speak your language, aber wenn du mir etwas verkaufst, dann muβt du Deutsch sprechen (…but if you want to sell me something, then you must speak German)”.
German is frequently used when exporting to 15 countries (including Germany and Austria). Russian is frequently used in trade with the Baltic States, Poland and Bulgaria. French is frequently used in 8 countries, including France, Belgium and Luxembourg. So maybe we need to expand our language horizons.
What are some approaches?
We are by no means suggesting unrestricted multilingualism. It’s the tower of Babylon all over again. It’s inefficient for the most dedicated and talented workforces, loss of sales and competitiveness. We need to agree on some common ground. And that’s actually what the language management strategy is about.
Companies evaluate the magnitude of the language barrier throughout three dimensions: Language Diversity, Language Penetration and Language Sophistication. The result is the ideal language strategy path. Let’s explore some of them.
Some companies go for a lingua franca, or common language. It consists of deciding on one language as the main means of communication. Still, not to be confused, the lingua franca is the main language, not the only language. There is a need to speak local languages. Completely eradicating someone’s native language from the workspace is a potential problem. For two reasons at least.
The first: imagine being overseas, or being part of an international team. You have to deal with an unfamiliar market and culture. And make all the more effort because it’s an expanding market. And there’s no room for expressing yourself in the language that is most familiar to you. That can be exhausting for your team.
Second. You need to understand this new market, and working with people who know the language and customs is a requirement. So dealing with new languages is not optional. Though language fluency does not equal cultural fluency: leaders tend to underperform because they fail to adapt their management styles and practices to fit a multicultural environment. That’s part of the strategy too.
It tries to balance the presence of a few common languages. There is a mix and a shared effort to make one understand the other. The problem is there will likely be frustrations in communication. But if the languages are few, and HQ’s in each country are big, it could be manageable.
External Language Resources
A more rational and obvious response to the language barrier is to employ external resources such as translators and interpreters (This is where we come in!). Teams like ours at Stillman provide project managers, interpreters, proofreaders and more. So for specific meetings, for multilingual campaigns, for multidisciplinary international projects– sometimes the most efficient way out is with a language professional who works hand in hand with your team.
This includes culturally and/or linguistically adapted websites. The use of linguistic audits. Language training and cultural briefing schemes. Link-forging with local universities. E-commerce involving multilingual operations. Product or packaging adaptation in line with local tastes and customs. And more.
Checklist for a good language management strategy
Here’s a jump start to start planning and checking:
- You have the ability to classify foreign language communications as urgent or non-urgent.
- Professional translators are brought in as needed to check all contracts.
- You employ foreign nationals, hire foreign students on placement, and use local agents for language matters.
- Language and cultural awareness training are offered regularly in your company and intensive training is provided.
- Potential linguistic and cultural barriers are spotted and addressed early in the planning stage and again during the work process.
- Linguistic aspects are taken into account from the point of first contact – the sales lead or initial joint venture approach – through to product development, packaging, delivery, and after sales service.
- Your website is culturally adapted and customers can find what they need and sense that they are respected as they pursue its content.
- Clients can contact customer support in their own language.
- Employees have someone in the company they can reach out to in their native language.
If you’re not sure how this is done, would like to know more or want to expand your strategy, contact us at Stillman.