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Languages: recruitment v training – feature

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Catherine Cook, founder and managing director of Inter-Monde, looks at the advantages of training in languages above recruiting.


The world is unarguably becoming smaller, with globalisation dragging the continents closer together with every new advance in technology. Companies are finding themselves competing on a much smaller battlefield against increasing armies of competition. As cultures assimilate, the business world becomes ever more integrated but still diverse. It now seems quite natural to some to be dealing with suppliers, customers and staff from different countries around the globe on a daily basis. So what does this all mean for the future of international commerce?

Not having a crystal ball to hand somewhat hampers my ability to predict accurately the destiny of all international business and commerce procedures. However, one thing is certain: with the rapid developments in travel, communication and technology it will become easier still to conduct business with our European and international neighbours.

Businesses operating internationally must be aware that once they expand the area in which they operate, they also increase the amount of competition they face. The standard and quality of their product/s becomes increasingly important in keeping up with the increase in competition. But more importantly, it is the service element that accompanies the product which is so crucial to a company’s success. A philosophy that has lead to many companies, some of which even offering a lesser quality product, gaining success overseas.

Because the internal communication process is shifting from across the corridor to across borders, corporate communication does not ‘just happen’ anymore. There are cultural issues to consider as societies still have radically different expectations, processes and standards. Such cultural differences can be a hindrance to commercial success with the greatest obstacle of all being the language barrier. If, for example, you have to deal with clients in China, a supplier in Sweden and a team in London then you will need the skills to communicate and reconcile your cultural biases with some of the many different ways of working encountered across the globe. The board needs to communicate and get feedback from employees or customers face to face. Although advances in technology have helped create a global market, and communication methods such as videoconferencing and email have all played a part in making the communications process easier, they do not help the way in which the communication is presented.

The value of language training not only affects top-level management and the communication between their international counterparts, but it also benefits all levels and departments in a company, because if your own employees can’t even interact with each other then the whole trading process can become complicated and confusing. Speaking a foreign language is no longer only necessary to sell or deal with foreign customers. With companies now merging in different parts of the globe it has become essential to develop a good synergy among employees. A common language and the awareness of cultural differences to promote communication and understanding, contribute to a healthy development of a business.

There are two main questions to consider in keeping up with the pace and aligning your business to that of your customers, suppliers and competitors. The first is do I replace the non-native speaking employees with ones that can speak the language? Or, do I provide the existing staff with some kind of language training?

We have seen a change in attitude towards employees in recent years. As jobs become more technically demanding, management become more appreciative of the workforce and the role they play in the success of the business. Employing new staff to do the same job as your existing employees is neither cost effective, when you weigh up the average cost of employing an individual, or practical, when you consider how long it will take to train the new employee to do the job of the person you have just replaced. It is often much easier to deliver basic language tuition than it is to provide comprehensive training for technical or specialized positions. Investing time, effort or money in your employees (i.e. training of any sort) improves employer/employee relations.

There is also the legal argument; you cannot just dismiss someone because they do not speak a certain language, as this was not a requirement when they were initially employed. Also, there is no guarantee that you will find a multilingual person that is willing to work in your business arena. Linguists are linguists, not computer programmers or salespeople, and to find people who have both linguist skills and the expertise required to fit the profile of the job description is very difficult. On the off chance you do find someone that fits this profile, then it will cost you.

Effective training of your staff is far more constructive, beneficial and cost effective. Unfortunately many organisations have a very one-dimensional outlook when it comes to training. All too often, companies look upon training as an expense, which of course it is, but they do not always fully consider the rewards that can be reaped if done properly. Often when a need is identified a training company is employed or a programme is brought in-house and the team is trained. Problem solved, right? Wrong! Training programmes are only effective if they provide long-term sustainable solutions. It has been said many times before that they should be seen as an investment rather than a cost as that is exactly what an effective course should be.

The fact that training expenses cannot always be quantified is the root cause for the apprehension encountered among most companies. Language training is no different, in that you can’t say that if you spend x amount on training, then as a direct result you will have y amount of sales. It doesn’t work like that. What is also required is a degree of forward thinking and a little faith. In training your staff to speak another language you are increasing their worth and most people will be grateful for your investment in their personal development.

However, a particular problem, especially for the British and Americans, is that English is “the” recognised international business language. Therefore, there seems to be an assumption among us that it is acceptable to communicate in our mother tongue without a need to try and develop some skills in other languages. The fact is, that it is no longer acceptable to expect our overseas colleagues to conduct business in English. The benefits in building relationships derived through an ability to speak - or at least demonstrating a willingness to speak - even a small amount of the local language, is indicated through an increasing interest in language tuition.

The variety of language courses available is confusing, but the programmes with a proven track record are customised to the individual needs of a company and have a strong cultural base. Successful courses combine tuition and cultural awareness. Immersion in the culture of a country as well as in the language is a proven method of success, with long-term results. The consolidation of knowledge and depth of understanding allows the student to use these skills with confidence upon returning to their working environment.

Despite the claims of language courses which latch on to the latest gimmick or require virtually no effort on the part of the student, successful and lasting learning does require hard work. A good tutor will always begin by dealing with the student's fears, making the student relaxed and able to anticipate the course with a sense of excitement. Then, under the tutors guidance, the student will move through all the stages involved – laying the foundations, constructing the framework and building the wall brick by brick.

Another major consideration, in today’s context of globalisation, is company mergers. The significance of this in relation to language training is that you are far more likely to integrate and achieve a successful merge if your staff and management are trained in effective language communications. According to the Wall Street Journal 70 per cent of mergers fail to achieve anticipated synergies, with people and cultural issues being the main cause of failure. Another survey undertaken by Watson Wyatt reported that 78 per cent of the respondents reported that aligning corporate culture is the key to a successful merger.

We are witnessing, and will almost certainly continue to witness, a change in expectations and attitudes, which will affect those trading globally. Although companies are not yet faced with their international partners demanding that business be conducted in their mother tongue, an ever increasing number are wising up to the escalating overseas competition. If you want to continue to achieve success or indeed are setting out for the first time on the international trading circuit, you must be prepared to adapt to the pace and speak the local language. If not, I guarantee someone else will.


Catherine Cook is the founder and Managing Director of Inter-Monde Language Services Ltd. Inter-Monde was established in 1993 by Catherine Cook. Specialising in intensive personalised language courses, each course is designed to enable individuals from commerce, business and industry to converse in and comprehend other languages in order to meet the increasingly competitive demands of the global marketplace.

Catherine Cook
Email: c.cook@intermonde.co.uk
http://www.intermonde.co.uk
Tel: 01252 717745

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