If you plan to conduct business abroad regularly, it’s important to build and sustain relationships over time. One way to do that is to acquire is the ability to speak another language. An estimated 20% of the world’s population is bilingual. By joining that 20%, you are giving yourself a leg up on the competition!
Why Learning Another Language Matters
Learning another language will help you establish credibility and make you and others feel more comfortable. It will also give you additional insights into the culture and how people make decisions, use technology, or buy products. Being able to understand “filler” words helps you determine when a conversation has transitioned from substantive to polite, yet perhaps inconsequential.
When you can speak another language, you are better prepared for the threads of small talk that will pepper your business discussion. Spanish-speakers, for example, may want to chat about family and friendships. Business partners from Germany may want to discuss current events or local politics. Being able to join the conversation will help you establish authenticity quickly.
Choose Your Second Language Wisely
If you’re working primarily in the US, next to English, Spanish is the number one language to learn. Given our relationship to China, Chinese investment in the US market, and the amount of immigration by Chinese citizens, it wouldn’t hurt to learn Mandarin. Your choice may also be dictated by your career plan or decision to move abroad.
When at all possible, pick a language that you’ll have fun learning, if you like the sound of it and feel good speaking it, you’ll be more successful. Usually when someone speaks more than one language they can pick up other languages easier, especially if they are in the same family, like Italian, Spanish, and French.
Don’t give up, while it’s a bit more difficult for adults to learn and pronounce other languages (because our brains are wired differently) watching TV shows, movies and simply hearing and speaking a foreign language will have you jabbering away in no time.
How Can Someone Get Started?
Just start! There are lots of tools, people to exchange with in your community, and more formal language classes available. Rosetta Stone is a favorite amongst business people. Apps like Duolingo give you access to language-learning in bite-sized modules you can access from your smartphone. Meetup groups where you can practice conversation in your chosen language convene in communities around the US every week. You can thank technology for the fact that you can practice your dialogue via Skype very affordably.
I like Kate Nielson’s reminder to figure out what we intend to use the language for. Business negotiations call for a different type of language learning than recreational travels do.
Although I’ve done business in over 40 countries, I certainly haven’t walked into every conversation with the ability to speak their language fluently. However, in each country, even when I could only muddle through some basic phrases, my business partners were grateful that I tried.
I work extensively with individuals seeking to expand their Cross Cultural Preparedness. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how I might help you.