Foreign Language Prominence at an All-Time High in U.S.

Richard Allaway/Flickr

Richard Allaway/Flickr

Americans are no strangers to foreign languages. Due to increasing globalization, businesses need to develop a language strategy to better compete in the international market.

Diversity is an integral part of the American experience. Yale Global Online reports that more than 800 languages are spoken in Manhattan alone, making it the most linguistically diverse city on earth. At the moment, 27.2 million people born in the U.S. do not primarily speak English at home.

However, 73% of U.S. citizens are unable to hold a conversation in more than one language, a reality which does not bode well for American business owners and entrepreneurs looking to gain access to global markets or benefit from the increasingly international composition of modern companies.

All 20 of the world’s fastest-growing countries are in Africa and Asia. These economies present enormous investment opportunities, but there are a number of factors that investors need to anticipate before they are ready to enter these emerging markets.

Language Is Important to Business

Nearly 80% of business leaders surveyed by the The U.S. Committee on Economic Development (CED) believe that their overall business would increase considerably if they had more internationally competent employees on staff, according to Forbes. The CED also maintains that one in five U.S. manufacturing jobs was already tied to exports by 2006.

Foreign consumers, primarily speakers of languages other than English, represent significant business opportunities for American producers, as the United States is home to less than five percent of the world’s population.

And as the CED notes, trade is shifting to different parts of the world. The United States’ annual trade with Asia hovers around $800 billion, significantly out-pacing the nation’s trade with Europe.

Businesses Respond with Lingua Franca

The CED estimates that American businesses lose more than $2 billion a year due to language or cultural miscommunications. Businesses strive to ensure efficient operations, and conducting business in multiple languages can seem ineffective in the long run.

Many companies have responded to increasing globalization by establishing a lingua franca for their company. Often, the lingua franca is English.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Flickr

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Flickr

What Lingua Francas Lack

Companies attempting to avoid a comprehensive language strategy by insisting on conducting business exclusively in English expose themselves to new risk. However, only conducting business in one language can create more problems than it solves.

Uneven language training can cause those who do and those who do not speak the same language natively to have more stressful and fraught relationships. This can in turn impact employee moral, identity, confidence, and ability to collaborate.

It is counterproductive to exacerbate a perceived power imbalance and contribute to an ‘us vs them’ office mentality. Employees in these work situations aren’t as likely to commit themselves fully to their work, and so their creativity and efficiency will suffer.

An inability to successfully incorporate other languages into the workplace can also make it more difficult for global companies to grow. When organizations skimp on language training, their global efforts rely on external lateral hires rather than complete tasks in-house.

Not only is there an issue with quality of service once a business relies too heavily on local, short-term contracts, but the whole process can become quite pricey as well.

The Solution is Language Training

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan claims that Americans need to learn foreign languages in order to understand other cultures and improve economic and political relationships with other countries.

A number of successful companies behave accordingly, including IBM, a multinational that employs people from 96 different nations who speak 184 languages. Although IBM has designated English as its lingua franca, they acknowledge that multiple languages are essential to their business and sales operations around the world, and they spend millions each year on training their employees.

Learning languages is about increasing communication, connecting with culture, and embracing communities. Companies like IBM understand that foreign language training is an investment in global expansion and corporate culture that enables an increase in opportunity for future growth.

Get started learning today with a professional service like Language Trainers. If you’re anxious to get started, begin by taking a free online language level test to see how good your foreign language skills are. Once your company is on the path to language globalization, you will be able to more comfortably expand to new markets, coordinate a strong, worldly workforce, and dominate the competition.