Second languages expand your knowledge and are exceptionally useful for travelling. But, are they able to help you in a professional context? More specifically, can learning a second language improve your company or further your career?
If these are questions that have been on your mind of late, you have come to the right place. In this article we will take an in-depth look at whether learning a second language can indeed benefit your organisation, and we will look at other relevant questions as well.
Let’s start with the most important:
How Can a Second Language Help Your Company?
There’s no doubt about it; a second language can absolutely benefit your company, and not just in the ways that you might think. Here are a few of the business benefits of learning a second language:
If you are reaching out to offshore clients in order to bring in global accounts, knowing the language of your prospective clients is crucial. Britain already loses out on billions of pounds due to a lack of language skills. So, this is an important area in which the nation as a whole needs to improve.
Being able to approach clients in their native language – or one that they feel more comfortable speaking – shows respect and commitment on your part. And, in the initial phases of business relationships, this is vital.
Moreover, speaking your clients’ language will mean that nothing gets lost in translation. Using jargon or idioms that are unfamiliar to your clients might bring an air of uncertainty or ambiguity to any dealings between your companies, so it is much safer to approach them in a language with which they are comfortable and familiar.
Expand Your Organisation
If you want to take your business to a country that doesn’t speak your native language, learning the local language is imperative. Successful expansion might not be solely dependent on it, but it certainly involves overcoming the language barrier.
This is because your love will surround you with speakers of a new language – both in business and casual settings. Not being able to speak the local language would make settling in and growing your business very challenging indeed.
Even if you aren’t physically located at your new branch, you will surely be hiring a number of locals. Without speaking their language, you might find it challenging to properly communicate with them and delegate tasks. This could definitely cause unnecessary setbacks.
Improve Your Organisation’s Culture
The decision to introduce a second language to your employees doesn’t just have the obvious benefits of attracting international clients. In addition to this, you can greatly improve the culture in your organisation.
Language learning can be used as a very effective (and very useful) form of team building. By banding together and helping each other grasp the new language, your employees will improve their bond, throw down their guards, and rediscover the importance of collaboration.
As you almost certainly know, team building is great for boosting your company’s revenue. But, through language learning, you give your staff a truly desirable skill in the process. This makes it a win-win situation.
Attract Better Prospects
Aside from being able to attract offshore business and refine international deals, a second language can be a major advantage on the home front.
Recent research has shown that over a third of UK companies find language skills highly desirable. 36% of the nation’s businesses recruit employees specifically for their language skills. And, importantly, this does not refer only to complete fluency in a second language. In fact, 74% of employers are more concerned with conversational ability than outright fluency.
So, when it comes to impressing other companies and attracting B2B prospects on home soil, even a general understanding of a second language amongst your staff is a definite boon.
Improve Your Organisation’s Written Communication Skills
Yes, your company will experience a boost in international communication through a second language. But, it will also improve its communication in your native language.
It may not surprise you but correct language use is important to gaining clients. And, interestingly, learning a foreign language also improves your grasp on your native language. This is because you are suddenly deconstructing the make-up of your language in order to compare it to the new language you are learning.
When learning a new language, you are made aware of the nuts and bolts of how language works. Your attention is turned to syntax, grammar, and other vital aspects of your first language.
Because of this, you will likely find that your organisation’s first language communication skills reach a new level while your employees are learning a second language.
Improve Your Employees’ Multitasking Skills
According to research, multi-linguists are better at multi-tasking.
Their knowledge of more than one language means that they are used to a mental process called ‘code-switching’. This essentially means that they constantly make a choice of which language, or which words, to use to express themselves.
As a result, a polyglot’s brain becomes accustomed to juggling multiple thoughts simultaneously, which improves their ability to multi-task.
Multi-tasking leads to an improvement in productivity, which leads to increased profits. So, even if the language itself is not one of the skills you need directly for your company, this fortunate side-effect will make it an asset.
Does Learning a New Language Make You Smarter?
If language learning helps your brain accomplish numerous tasks simultaneously, it is fair to wonder if it makes you smarter in general.
Whether learning a second language actively increases your IQ is a matter of some debate. That being said, there are numerous cognitive effects that come with learning a new language. Some of these are:
Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills
It has been noted that children growing up in multi-lingual homes demonstrate increased problem-solving skills later in life. This is because their brains constantly work to sort the words they hear into separate language batches, to put it simply.
But, this skill is not reserved for children. The same applies to adults.
When you are learning a foreign language, your brain needs to identify words, assign meaning to them, and translate it all into understanding. This is the basic trajectory that your brain takes when faced with other problems as well.
When you or your employees are learning a new language, you are essentially sharpening your brain’s ability to take this trajectory towards a solution. The more you build your language skills, the more your problem-solving skills develop in tandem.
The result is that you and your team’s ability to solve a variety of workplace problems will become increasingly refined.
When you speak multiple languages, your brain is always receiving information and sorting it, as we mentioned in the last point. And, in addition to developing your problem-solving skills, this also makes you more focused.
When a multi-linguist receives information, their brain translates it into the different languages they speak, decides on the context, and then discards the information that is not relevant.
So, if a speaker of Spanish and English were to be greeted in Spanish, their brain would process the greeting and then decide how to react. If the person is going to reply in Spanish, the English translation would be discarded.
This ability extends beyond the use of language into everyday life. Studies have shown that multi-linguists are better at picking out important information from the flurry of information that they constantly receive. The useful parts are retained while the rest is discarded. This comes across as improved focus.
Your brain is like a muscle in that exercise helps it grow and develop. And, while you are learning a second language, you are exercising the part of your brain that is responsible for memory.
There is a fair amount to take in when you are learning a new language. Aside from a new vocabulary, you need to remember grammar rules and sentence structure. But, in doing so, you boost your brain’s ability to retain information. And, this doesn’t just apply to language.
Research has shown that bilingual people have an enhanced ability to recall lists and sequences, thanks to the exercise they give their brains.
What is actually happening as result of this ‘exercise’ is an increase in grey matter. This increase in grey matter means a greater ability to retain information as it is the part of the brain that is responsible for memory. In addition to memory, grey matter helps increase your attention span.
You may think that creativity is something that you have to be born with. But, it is actually something that you can nurture, and learning a second language helps improve your creativity.
The learning and use of a second language sparks divergent thinking. This is a type of thought in which there is no specific answer. This is opposed to convergent thinking, in which there is a definite answer – such as an answer in a multiple choice test.
Language learning uses divergent thinking because structure differs between languages. So, translating a sentence from English to Italian, for example, would involve more than simply changing the words in a sentence from English to Italian.
There are often times when words don’t have a direct translation, or the sentence structure is radically different. In these cases, your brain works on various solutions to try to express meaning.
This is divergent thinking – the type of thinking associated with creativity – and it can be harnessed in other areas of your life.
A Decrease in the Chance of Dementia or Alzheimer’s
Studies show that, regardless of intelligence, education, income, or gender, being bilingual can decrease your chances of contracting Alzheimer’s disease.
This is an area that has been relatively widely researched, and the results are consistent. Bilingual people who do suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s do so later in life. Different studies have produced slightly different results, but the average offset is between 3 and 4 years.
Scientists believe that this is due to a cognitive reserve that is present in the brains of multi-linguists. And, with 850,000 Britons suffering from dementia at present, this alone makes studying a second language a very healthy choice for your brain.
What Is the Best Language to Learn for Business?
The best language to bring into your organisation as a second language depends entirely on your ambitions and where you want to take your company in the future. That being said, it is likely that you would want to tap into booming markets and give your company a lot of range in terms of prospects.
With that in mind, here are 5 languages which appear on the British Council’s Languages for the Future Report, and that your company should seriously consider:
1. Mandarin Chinese
The primary language spoken in China, with over 800 million native speakers, Mandarin is the most popular language in the world today. It is also a very popular business language. This is because it is linked with a booming economy that is set to overtake the US in a little over a decade.
Rapid and consistent growth over the last three decades has seen China become a leader in global export. And, the rise of online marketplaces like Alibaba means that the country shows little signs of slowing down.
This means that there is massive potential for any business forging deals with China, making fluency in Mandarin a serious asset.
With around 400 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most popular language in the world. And, in addition, it is spoken in many different locations. By being able to communicate in Spanish, your business will be able to seek clients in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and numerous other countries.
This is important for business because many Spanish-speaking countries have been identified by the Confederation of British Industry as economies on the rise, opening up a lot of potential for affordable trade. This is in addition to the already valuable export market that is Spain.
With the Spanish language’s sprawling footprint, your business stands to benefit from worldwide deals by adding it to your communication toolkit.
Arabic has more than 230 million native speakers – far fewer than Spanish, and yet the Middle East represents a very important region for British business.
Of the top 50 regions for UK export, 6 countries are Arabic-speaking. Together, they were worth an export value of over 12 billion pounds near the beginning of the decade. And, since then, Arabic countries have shown no signs of being any less valuable to British business.
Having a working knowledge of Arabic gives your business access to wealthy areas of the Middle East, such as Qatar, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.
Portuguese is the native language in Portugal, of course, but it is also spoken officially in Brazil and several African countries. This makes it yet another important business language.
Brazil is the 8th largest economy in the world, representing over half of the GDP of South America. In 2017 the country bounced back from a couple of slower growth years in order to register a healthy growth average, and it is expected to move to a GDP of 2.1 trillion dollars in 2018.
This alone makes Portuguese a very useful language in business dealings.
German has 110 million native speakers, making it the most popular language in continental Europe. This alone is enough to make learning German an attractive option if your business wants to cross the pond.
But, there are several other factors that make German an important language to know. The most important of these is the fact that Germany is the UK’s most important trading partner. Aside from being the primary source of imports for the UK, Germany contributes over 30 billion pounds to the UK’s export market each year.
If your business wants to focus on establishing itself in Europe before moving further afield, German is a very useful language to learn.
What Are the Most Popular Second Languages in Different Countries?
The primary language spoken in a country which you want your business to enter is always going to be important. But, it might prove equally important to pay attention to the country’s second language.
If you are looking to branch out and set up an office or outlet in a new country, it might help if that country’s second language was your native language, or at least one that you are familiar with. That way, you would still be able to communicate effectively while you or your employees are learning the country’s primary language.
With that in mind, what are the most popular second languages around the world? Fortunately, Movehub prepared a very helpful infographic featuring the most common second languages spoken globally.
According to this infographic, the top 5 most popular second languages are:
English is by far the most popular second language in the world. It is spoken by 55 other countries spread across the globe from Southeast Asia to Africa to Central and South America.
Even though French comes in at number 2, it is still a long way off English in terms of popularity. It is spoken in 14 other countries – over 40 shy of English’s dominance. Still it is spoken in North America, Africa, and several other regions.
Hot on the heels of French is Russian, which is spoken in 13 other countries. Many of these surround Russia, which does limit its scope. But, at number 3 on the list, Russian’s impact as a language is undeniable.
Considering Spanish has the second highest number of native speakers, it is somewhat surprising that it ranks only fourth on the list of second languages with popularity in 8 other countries.
An arguably surprising fifth on the list is Creole, which is spoken in 8 countries other than the common Creole-speaking countries. Some of these countries are located in South America and Africa.
Which Foreign Languages Are Most in Demand?
Looking at the most popular first and second languages around the world, you should have a good idea of the languages that will most benefit your organisation.
But, if you still aren’t sure about which second language to bring into your company, here are the languages that the world most wants to learn, according to data from online language students:
With the exception of Russian, this is in line with the most common second languages around the world.
How Much Is Knowledge of a Second Language Worth?
If you are looking at employment opportunities, knowing a second language is believed to add an additional 2% to your salary per year. This might not seem like much but consider the fact that you stand to make this over your whole career.
When doing the maths and taking compound interest into account, you stand to make tens of thousands extra by the time you hit retirement age.
If you are bringing a second language into your organisation, you stand to make a lot more than this. As mentioned, a second language gives your company the ability to actively target clients in other areas of the world – many of which are booming markets.
While the statistics on this are harder to create than those representing employment income, the earning potential is huge.
Take Your Organisation to Another Level with SIMON&SIMON
All things considered, bringing a second language into your organisation can only be good. It allows you to extend your client-base, and your organisation, on an international scale. It also allows for a collaborative, focused, well-spoken team, which is great for your bottom line.
In addition, language learning has definite cognitive effects that will greatly benefit you and your employees. Aside from developing skills that are invaluable to business, such as problem-solving skills, enhanced focus, improved memory, and creativity, language learning actually helps keep your mind sharper during your advanced years.
With all this to gain, your organisation should look at language learning as an investment, if not an asset.
To find a partner that can make the learning process easy through tailored content and hands-on tutoring, be sure to contact SIMON&SIMON today.