In today’s growing multicultural society, multilingual employees and companies that cater to a variety of customers (not just English-speaking ones) are becoming more sought-after. Employees that are bilingual or can speak multiple languages are highly regarded in positions such as sales, management, and certainly customer service. These multilingual employees are especially valuable in fields such as healthcare, where foreign-born clients seek care for important and often essential matters. Having an employee that can explain medical information in a patient’s native language is a strong benefit for these organizations.
Despite the advantages of having multilingual employees, many companies overlook or simply don’t understand the benefit. Demographics are changing across the United States and indeed the world. Multilingual businesses get noticed. What business wants to be left behind? Who wants to lose money when clients and customers instead turn to competitors that are more willing to communicate?
Multilingualism is an advantage in the workplace, and here are a few reasons why:
Businesses can reach more customers.
Although many immigrants speak English quite well, 28% of immigrants live in a household where no family members over the age of 13 can speak English “very well.” In California, for example, in households that are in “linguistics isolation” the most common language is Spanish, followed by Vietnamese and Chinese. All across America businesses that do not operate with multilingual employees or processes are unable to do business with 28% of the population. Not only are these businesses not able to reach customers, the customers are not able to reach them.
Additionally, having multilingual employees also opens the international market. English is spoken by about 5% of the world’s population. In comparison, 14% of the world speaks Mandarin and 6% speak Spanish – and those are only a few languages spoken in the world. A business with no multilingual programs or employees is missing out on a very large portion of the international market and all the sales that go along with it.
A bilingual or multilingual employee has probably spent a considerable amount of time studying the culture that accompanies their language of study. Multilingual employees in management positions may then be better suited for managing diverse employee populations. Not only is it possible that these managers will be able to speak the language of their employees, they will also understand the nuances of other cultures and manage any conflicts that might arise.
Communication within the business can improve.
In today’s increasingly international world it is likely that at least one employee that was born in another country and whose first language is not English. Some of these may be lower-level employees with limited English language skills – and some of them may be high-level, highly skilled employees. An employer or coworker that regularly communicates with these workers should be able to speak their language.
So, does multilingualism have benefits in the business world? Yes! Obviously one of the strongest advantages is the ability to develop stronger international campaigns and grow a customer base, but it is also important to recognize how multilingualism can lead to growth and innovation in the business’s internal environment.
Multilingual businesses are better equipped to communicate with all parties, internal and external, and leverage these conversations to generate higher revenues.
Both images courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Megan Ritter is a graduate student at USC and an online web journalist. Follow her on Twitter @megmarieritter.