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Are there still benefits of knowing multiple languages?

English is a languagewidely spokenin our global business world. Mastering few languages used to be a real asset in the past, but today we live in a global village where language is no longer a barrier. More and more global companies have a physical presence in given countries, so language is not a challenge anymore.

The question is: is it still relevant these days...?

11 Replies

Roshan Diwakar
1
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Roshan Diwakar Entrepreneur
CTO and Principal Consultant at Xtreme Automation Corp
Multiple Research have shown that speaking multiple languages helps creativity and offers other advantages.

http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/llp/studies/documents/study_on_the_contribution_of_multilingualism_to_creativity/compendium_part_1_en.pdf

It's the same bucket as "Is writing on paper still useful? or "Is hand-drawing stjill useful?"
Rodrigo Vaca
2
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Rodrigo Vaca Entrepreneur • Advisor
Product & Marketing
Meir -

You have a couple of assumptions/assertions built-in that are not quite correct.

- "Language is no longer a barrier." Not true. Language is still a barrier in many scenarios. Doing business between Germany and US? Sure, not much a barrier. But, in India, Japan, China, Brazil and Mexico? Language is still pretty much a barrier.

- Transactional nature. You assume once you communicate a business point (say, contract terms or business deal) in the particular language, then you're all good. But you're negating the human nature of these interactions. The more you can relate to your business partners -in all levels - the easier it'll be to do business.

- Personal Growth. You assume learning a language only has business advantages. I disagree. I also has huge personal growth advantages. Being able to read a masterpiece in its original language is priceless. And the more we read, the more we understand other cultures and points of view, the better we become - including in business!


Meir Amarin                  ✔
0
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Meir Amarin ✔ Advisor
Venture Partner
Great points, Rodrigo.
In the context of a global corporation, languages are no longer barrier simply because of it local presence.
Rodrigo Vaca
0
0
Rodrigo Vaca Entrepreneur • Advisor
Product & Marketing
Meir -

Local presence solves communication problem between local branch and local market.

However, communication problems between local branch and HQs will still persist. I've seen this happen - in fact, still happens to me every day!

BTW, it's not just language, but also communication styles.

You'd think successful CEOs that have armies of local people to help them with languages issues in local markets wouldn't have a need to speak multiple languages. However, it is well documented how Carlos Ghosn (Portuguese+French+Japanese), Mark Zuckerberg (English + Chinese) and even Michael Blooomberg (English+Spanish) do this well.

Whether success required them to learn other languages or whether multiple languages led them to success, that's a point for discussion, but I think the distinction is not to easy to make.


Sujee Jeganathan
0
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Sujee Jeganathan Entrepreneur • Advisor
President at CSI
We evaluated using this app/tool called http://www.wirl.ca.

It's a pretty interesting cloud based continuous feedback tool. At the time it may not have been a fit for my organization as a whole, but its definitely something we will re-evaluate in the future.
Sam Hermans
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Sam Hermans Entrepreneur
Information Security | Risk Management | Founder at Lumturio.com
I agree with @Rodrigo that it's not so much the actual language as more the communication style.

Even in the US you will address people in a different way in let's say New York and the Midwest.

That said: One of my companies is in Bulgaria where they do not only have their local language but also the Cyrillic alphabet. (You won't understand a word from any legal paperwork by looking at it) They also have customs like 'nodding no' means yes, and 'nodding yes' means no, and you can safely assume that this can cause the necessary confusion.

While a do speak multiple languages I have no plan on learning the Bulgarian language soon (aside from basic greetings) because for me it makes no sense investing time in a language with only 6 million native speakers.

You will get quite far with English in the EU and NA regions long as you understand the different finesse and customs required for each geographical location.

Russia, Middle East, Asia and Japan are another story.
Chris Oei
0
0
Chris Oei Entrepreneur
Independent Contractor at Realty ONE Group
I've learned some Mandarin so I can do business in China. It's come in handy a few times, even though English classes are required for all students in China and most professionals in China are better at speaking English than I am at speaking Mandarin. Also, I think learning the language helps convince people that you respect their culture and are serious about your efforts in that country.
Meir Amarin                  ✔
0
0
Meir Amarin ✔ Advisor
Venture Partner
Good point. I do speaks fluently Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, English and Arabic. Sometimes it makes the entire difference in business. It happens not only because of the language but also because of understanding the culture.

However, I am not sure if the same applies for a multinational corporation. As I mentioned earlier, I have worked for few global corporation. Regardless of the country: Philipines, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, India, France or others, it seems to me that there is a kind of "typecast" which bridges the language gap. I met colleagues from these countries in an advanced leadership program. It was my impression that we are all speaking the same "corporate language", regardless of the country of origin. I guess that this is one of the advantages of a big corporation.
Andrea Gentili
0
0
Andrea Gentili Entrepreneur
COO (and co-Founder) at Kobo Funds
Meir
I am actually surprised you asked the question.
You basicallygave yourself the answer.... the big corporation environment is a niche.
Big corporations hire usually peoplehavinga specific set ofskills, including a reasonable level of Business English.
However in the vast majority of countries, SMEs are the backbone of economy (i.e. in Europe you have around 20M companies,more than 95% are SMEs)...and in them the knowledge of English is not common.
Excluding some areas (i.e. Northern Europe) the knowledge of English is very basic and that would be a major barrierto do business.
Last but not least, to reply to Rodrigo ("doing business between Germany and US? Sure, not much a barrier"), there is a lot of hype about several countries "speaking English well"....I can speak for personal experience....stay a while in Germany and you'll soon understand what I mean.
Regards
Andrea
Meir Amarin                  ✔
0
0
Meir Amarin ✔ Advisor
Venture Partner
Good point, Andrea.
It is not always up to what I think... I was really interested to hear what others are thinking about it.
I have heard from many persons that you can do well and manage with a good English...
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