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Does a second language open the door to business success?

By on February 26, 2015

Following news that the popularity of language learning is declining year on year (The Telegraph), it’s clear that less young people are considering modern foreign languages to be an important consideration for their future careers. Yet ongoing research consistently suggests that this doesn’t match up to the needs and expectations of UK Business.

Back in 2013, the British Council published a report in which they pinpointed ten languages that would be crucial for the UK’s long-term prosperity, security and influence, using various indicators such as export trade, emerging markets and diplomatic concerns. The results were as follows (in order of importance):

1 Spanish
2 Arabic
3 French
4 Mandarin Chinese
5 German
6 Portuguese
7 Italian
8= Russian
8= Turkish
10 Japanese

The report found that 75% of the adults polled were unable to hold a conversation in any of the languages highlighted, and the British Academy declared the UK to be trapped in a ‘vicious cycle of monolingualism’ whereby Brits would become excluded from international negotiations and business opportunities.

Be strategic with your language choices

The languages listed above don’t throw up any major surprises, and do tend to correlate with the level of demand we see as a translation company. However, the decision over which languages to prioritise for your business is largely dependent on your particular product or service. Mandarin Chinese is usually considered the front runner of business languages, with Bloomberg naming it the top business language worldwide (other than English). It accounts for the second biggest online language in terms of internet usage after English, and is also the UK’s second largest source of imports. Add to this the growing numbers of international students and tourists that generate revenue here in the UK, and understanding how to appeal to the Chinese consumer becomes a crucial skill.

globe pie chartWhile China may also be the world leader in online retail sales, this is only due to its size. Where 19% of China’s population makes purchases online, Germany dominates the ecommerce market with 61% of the population engaged in online shopping (PFS web). Add to this the fact that the country’s online retail is forecast to grow further still by 23% in 2014-15, and there are clear opportunities here for international online retailers who are willing to engage with German consumers in their own language, with a similar trend following in France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy (RetailMeNot).

Parlez-vous anglais?

Despite common belief, the assumption that ‘everyone else can speak English’ often doesn’t ring true, with nations like Turkey, Russia and Brazil all considered to have a low proficiency in English (EF English Proficiency Index). In a survey of 572 executives in 2012, the EIU found that around half of those questioned claimed that misunderstandings had hampered business deals and international growth, with this being particularly prevalent in Brazil and China. Foreign partners and clients are far more likely to develop a stronger working relationship with someone who speaks their language and truly understands their culture. The ability to converse on a more social level can pay dividends, with personal relationships being able to influence business deals and inspire trust. The same principle applies for online content. When a consumer is able to interact with a website in their own language, they have much greater confidence to make a purchase.

In this increasingly fierce global business landscape, anything that can set you apart from your competitors is bound to work to your advantage. So why not brush up on your GCSE French or consider localising your website – reaching out a little could go a long way!

Are you thinking about expanding your business internationally? Get in touch to find out how we could help.

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