10 September 2018

From Greetings to Meetings: Putting Your Language Skills to Work


Learning a new language for business is a great professional strategy. It allows you to engage on a personal level with new and future colleagues and clients, and it establishes a point of difference between you and your competitors. This sounds great in theory, but how might these new skills be useful in a real-life scenario?

This article shares some practical tips for using a new language at work, enabling you to push your language skills to their full potential while avoiding misunderstandings.

Start slowly, and learn from experience

Making sense of a new language in a learning environment is one thing, but the real test comes when you start to use your skills in a range of real-life encounters. By viewing each opportunity to use your new language as a chance to practice, you can strengthen your language skills from day one.

You should start slowly, understanding the limits of your abilities at a given point while gently testing this boundary. Explain to your new clients or colleagues that you are learning the language, asking them to forgive any unintentional errors. Engage interpreters and enlist more proficient colleagues for key conversations or meetings, too – you can learn a lot from listening to them in action!

You may feel frustrated if you need to rely on others at first, but this slow and steady approach allows you to develop your skills in an organic and manageable way. Over time your confidence should develop alongside your language ability, and before you know it you might even feel relaxed chatting about a new business opportunity – or even your weekend plans! The more you use your language skills, the more confident you will feel.

Be prepared – know your audience

If you have a meeting on the horizon, consider the logistics of working with two (or more) languages. Do you need to supply an agenda in both languages? Will you present the minutes in both languages? If the answer is no to either question, will the initial greetings at least take place in both languages?

Some countries have more than one official language, so you may wish to present at least some information in additional languages to show respect and to accommodate your clients and colleagues. Providing slides and other materials in different languages may also be helpful, and the work involved to prepare these gives you another way to familiarise yourself with the language. Enlisting the help of a translator or interpreter can also help you avoid slip-ups on the day of the meeting – at least until you have developed stronger conversational skills.

Integrating language learning with cultural training is a recognised successful strategy for businesses wishing to succeed while operating in a new market, so remember to consider the potential impact of any cross-cultural factors (such as local rules on business gift-giving). If you have done your homework, you can ready yourself for any professional encounter, from simple introductions through to in-depth meetings and negotiations.

Be kind to yourself – and to others

Learning a new language is a rewarding challenge. But no matter how hard you practice, you will almost certainly make some mistakes along the way – which is a normal and important part of the process. While avoiding misunderstandings is always important, no-one expects your language skills to be perfect from the offset – so be kind to yourself!

Forward-thinking business professionals understand the need for personal and professional development in all its forms, and they should respect your commitment to developing your skillset. By creating a mutually supportive environment, every connection you make in your business can feel encouraged to be the best they can be, whether learning a language, training in a new business area or developing their leadership skills.

Taking your new language from the classroom to the field can be stressful, but with regular practice, you can overcome this anxiety – and you may even surprise yourself as your confidence develops! Investing in cross-cultural training can also help your business to maximise the many benefits of language learning. Contact us today to find out how we can help you and your team.

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