Should You Learn The Local Language When You Relocate?

Learn The Language

An increasingly globalized economy means more employees face international reassignment. When business takes you to another country, learning the local language proves essential for getting around and performing well in the new work environment. If your company plans a major move, coordinators should consider following the examples of successfully expanding corporations like Nissan and Softbank by making language learning a priority.

If your job requires you to move to a foreign country, you should count on learning the language of your new host nation. Whether traveling solo or with family, you’re reestablishing home base, and effective communication is essential for survival inside and outside the workplace.

Outside the office, a basic understanding of local language will ensure that you can carry out everyday tasks like hailing a cab, ordering a meal, or communicating when you need help. Relocate Magazine underscores how more meaningful exchanges with locals will help you feel settled. It feels good to get around and make connections; smooth cultural transition maintains psychological happiness, and well-adjusted employees carry that confidence into work.

Moreover, assimilating empowers you to conduct effective business. Fluency in local language enables the best possible work output, helping employees contribute maximally and navigate negotiations with foreign parties. Learning native customs demonstrates respect for international colleagues while understanding the nuances of language makes newcomers more sensitive to cultural differences. Adopting local language to any degree has the effect of strengthening personal ties with conversation partners, especially important in international climates that stress personal relationships in business.

When the benefits of learning local language for business are manifold, what is the best way for relocating employees and their companies to facilitate the international transition?

How to Ensure Employees Learn Local Language

Whether relocating temporarily or permanently, employees are well advised to pick up conversational and business terminology in the local language. Studying as much as possible before arrival will give employees a head start, and/or taking intensive language classes on site can be a great way to meet people and immerse in the language.

But the responsibility of language education need not fall solely on individual employees. In light of the many benefits, businesses opening international offices, entering international markets, or otherwise orchestrating reassignments can take measures to ensure employees become fluent.

Softbank and Nissan Incentivize Employees to Learn Language

Last year, Japanese mobile business Softbank purchased a large share in US mobile carrier Sprint Nextel Corp. As incentive for employees to learn English, the company offered each staff member a bonus of one million yen ($9,800) if they could score 900 points or better on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) after a given learning period.

Similarly, Japanese car manufacturer Nissan decided to offer  language classes for employees free of charge, encouraging staff members to learn new language even if they didn’t intend to relocate.

With these incentives, Softbank and Nissan recognize that learning languages does more than add skills to resumes: it empowers global business, making employees more approachable to foreign partners. Both businesses aim to make employees proficient when communicating with co-workers across the globe. They further incentivize employees in this direction by emphasizing that learning a new language may present opportunities to take senior roles abroad if and when positions open. Language skills translate to promotion opportunities.

Why It’s Worth Encouraging Multilingual Employees

If your company has made the decision to relocate an operation, you will likely face a number of logistical and cultural challenges in attempts to retain top talent through the move. English-speaking employees may operate under the misconception that everyone will speak their language, and employees may generally resist spending the time and exerting the effort required to adopt an entirely new tongue.

Learning a foreign language can be a daunting prospect, especially dependent on the level of difficulty inherent in the language. However, if staff members are living in a foreign country, more than bad for business, it can be dangerous to expect them to operate without even a basic knowledge of the local language.

How Global Businesses Approach Language Learning

When asking employees to relocate, consider the wonderful opportunity you present them, but also the serious language learning task. Be clear about the importance of learning the local language for performance at work as well as for their essential well-being. Consider offering relocation-oriented classes, and reward proficiency with company benefits and/or bonuses.

If you’re not opening any new offices but interested to expand into international markets and work with foreign partners, take a page out of Nissan’s book and offer employees complimentary language classes. The gesture sends a powerful message about the international identity of your company, a concrete step you can take towards globalizing your business.

If your business plans a move, check out LanguageTrainers’ relocation focused language courses.