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Why a Second (or Third) Language is Good for Your Business


bilingual-businessIf you own your own business or work in the corporate world, you are bound to have a “lost in translation” moment. Everything seems to be going great until the language barrier rears its ugly head, and suddenly you and your client are at a loss. Frustration ensues from a failure to communicate, and you lose out on a great business opportunity. In this global economy, it’s important to learn another language to expand your horizons and help grow your business. Here are a few guidelines to help you bridge the language gap:

Travel Everywhere

If you are learning another language, it’s important to experience the challenges of a foreign country. When you travel to a new place where you don’t know the language, you are putting yourself out there. Imagine how your client feels conducting business in another language! You will likely have missteps traveling abroad, but it will give you a greater understanding and compassion for people trying to work through a language barrier. Remember: Even if you know how to ask where the “toilet” is in another language, you still have to understand the directions they give you.

Pick a Language Close to Home

The best way to learn a language is pretty simple: You have to use it daily. So trying to learn German when you live in Miami is going to be extremely difficult. Learning Spanish makes much more sense in this instance. However, if you don’t live in an area with a common foreign language, take classes at a local college. You’re more likely to meet people in a university setting with whom you can practice your new skills.

Learn to Fail

Most people who use English as a second language will appreciate that you took the time to learn their language. Additionally, not requiring a client to speak English can make you stand out in the business world. If you travel outside of the United States, you’ll meet a variety of people who speak English fairly well but are reluctant to because they don’t want to make any mistakes. When you use another language for the first time, accept that you will probably say something incorrectly. That’s OK. Holding a conversation with a native speaker is part of the learning process that you can’t learn from a textbook.

Find the Most Popular Languages

Obviously there are some languages — Swahili for example — you wouldn’t need to know in broad terms. However, if your business routinely buys merchandise from Germany, you might find it useful to learn German. On a very basic level, if you live in the United States, then it would make sense to learn Spanish. Some languages share similarities with others, so learning one makes it easier to learn another. For instance, a person studying Japanese will find the sentence structure very similar to Korean. Searching geographically, you will find many languages with the same basic structure and, usually, similar sounding words, which makes learning additional languages much easier.

When All Else Fails

It’s infinitely easier to learn a new language when you’re a child. So, as you get older, it becomes more difficult. If you don’t have the time or the patience to learn a new language, you can still come out on top in the business world. If you speak English, you already have an advantage because English is the universal language for business and politics. Just learning a few key phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” and “goodbye” in your client’s language will show respect for your client. When all else fails, becoming familiar with a client’s ethnic food or music can garner respect and be a great conversation starter.

We are all connected via the Internet, social media, and our smart phones, so learning to communicate across borders is key in everyday life and business. When you are able to communicate effectively with a client, it can be as obvious as the difference between a black and white or a color TV: One is bright and vivid, and the other has a lot of gray areas. Clear up confusion in business transactions and gain your clients’ respect by learning to speak their language.

  • Kelsey

    Great article Aaron thank you for sharing! I think I should start hanging out at more coffee shops! Great advice to make your self approachable. I’ll try it next time :)

  • Eleazar

    Great article Aaron! Very helpful, thanks for sharing! :)