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English speaking companies failing to empower better communications

UK businesses are falling behind because of their lack of language skills.

English speaking companies often make the mistake of thinking that they don’t need to learn another language.

There is no doubt that English is the dominant world business language, but by failing to develop capabilities to communicate in other languages, English-speaking companies are missing out on many opportunities.

Business is increasingly global in nature. More than one quarter of employees in 26 countries told Ipsos pollsters that their jobs involve dealing with people in other countries. Of those, two thirds said that English is the language they use most often.

Forging deeper bonds

There are global variations, however. Workers in India, Singapore and Saudi Arabia were the most likely to say their jobs involved interacting with people from other countries. In Japan, however, only 9% and in Russia only 13% said their work required communication outside their country.

If a manufacturing company from the UK were to meet a supplier from Russia and a partner from France, the common language would most probably be English, not Russian or French.

By contrast, the chances of the UK company’s employees speaking French or Russian are much lower. However, employees with language skills will be well placed to speak to suppliers, partners and customers in their language, potentially forging deeper bonds and making communication more effective.

In the long run, this will result in happier clients, stronger customer retention, more efficient operations and greater profitability.

Communications skills deliver better performance

There is clear evidence that better workplace communication skills deliver better business performance.

The Speexx Exchange Survey, which questioned more than 250 global HR directors, L&D professionals and C-level executives, revealed the main benefits to be better collaboration across borders (43%) and improved competitive advantage in global projects (39%). 

Online and mobile language training solutions are effective ways of delivering language and communication development.

The language barrier and cultural differences in communication can result in frustration and mistakes. Unsurprisingly, more than a third (38%) of the high-level respondents to the Speexx survey reported better levels of customer care arising from a workforce able to communicate with customers in their own language.

Furthermore, a third of respondents saw a reduction in internal conflict stemming from improved communication. 

Quantifiable benefits

The benefits of better workplace communication skills are quantifiable – almost a quarter (23%) of survey respondents had achieved cost savings through improved communications and language skills.

Tangible cost savings result from being able to use permanent staff for projects in new territories rather than hiring expensive contract staff with the right language skills. 

Less measurable benefits include improved employee retention rates as employees are offered the opportunity of overseas travel or postings and the chance to develop their skills in an international setting.

The recruitment cost of replacing employees can be as high as 60% of an employee’s annual salary, according to Wayne Cascio’s Managing Human Resources: Productivity, Quality of Work Life, Profits

Prospective and existing customers, partners and suppliers will feel more at ease if you speak their language.

Online and mobile language training solutions are effective ways of delivering language and communication development, especially where businesses have bought into the BYOD (bring your own device) trend and have a flexible mobile workforce already. However, it is important not just to focus on the mechanics of grammar and vocabulary, but to cover real business communication skills. 

Sector-specific communications demand knowledge of the jargon used in that sector, while cultural considerations, such as how to greet someone, how to show gratitude, when and how to exchange business cards and body language to avoid, are equally as important as language skills.

Quick tips

English speaking companies wishing to improve their language and communications skills could benefit from considering the points below. 

  • Blend formal language training with real-world experiences of speaking the language
    Give employees the opportunity to practise speaking with a native speaker about a work-related topic in a virtual classroom or telephone session. 
  • Tap into language skills across the workforce
    Enable employees with skills in different languages to support the development of colleagues. Research shows that people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. 
  • Offer incentives
    Reward employees undertaking online language learning by giving them the chance to collaborate with international colleagues, customers or partners, either face-to-face during business travel or via virtual conference.
  • Broaden communications development beyond language training
    Cultural awareness will stand you in good stead to develop international business relationships.
  • Enable mobile elearning to support employees at the point of need
    If employees can access language learning when they need it, it will be so much more effective but make sure that time for language training is ring-fenced too.

Investment in language training will result in more flexible and creative employees and deliver benefits to the organisation well beyond better language and communications skills.

Furthermore, global language and communication skills will generate many more potential clients for predominantly English-speaking companies.

Prospective and existing customers, partners and suppliers will feel more at ease if you speak their language and understand and respect their culture, which is a great starting point for doing business. 

Interested in learning how to communicate better in business? Read How to influence in the overwhelming world of communication.


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Armin Hopp


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