Globalisation is opening trading and cultural doors all over the world, enabling businesses to quickly discover new international partners and to work closely with them in a vast range of industries. However, the language barrier remains a frequent sticking point for many organisations, and employers continue to see language skills as desirable in their employees, if not essential to business success.
Translation services – and the technologies that help translators and interpreters do their jobs quickly and effectively – are also becoming increasingly popular, driven by growing opportunities in overseas markets.
Translators and interpreters provide businesses with the ability to access small and emerging markets – and with over 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, that is a lot of opportunities! Which begs the question: if you can just hire a translator or interpreter, do you really need second language skills in the workplace?
Looking at the languages of the world in more detail
A translator or interpreter may be essential to a business trading through some of the 7,000+ languages of the world, but sadly many of these languages are in danger of disappearing. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s population speak one of just 12 languages (and over half of these are the languages of our European neighbours). Therefore, by adding second language skills to your organisation’s training and development programme, you can have significant global reach without the need for a translator or interpreter.
It is also worth thinking about the economic potential of your second language when you are weighing up the pros and cons of language learning versus translation services.
A distinct lack of foreign language skills in the UK has been estimated in recent years to cost the UK economy £48 billion a year, while a US economist has suggested that learning German may provide the largest return on investment for their time and energy. Strategically, it seems that a second language can give your organisation a significant edge.
Adding extra languages to your business’s wider skill set seems like a wise move in a world where language diversity is shrinking – especially when you factor in the many personal and professional benefits that your employees will experience as a result. But how about the other side of the coin: what can translators and interpreters bring to your business?
Balancing the business benefits of translation services
Demand for translation services is on the rise. In fact, the translation industry has often been labelled ‘recession-proof’ – a bold claim, but unsurprising when you consider how central languages are to business success in an increasingly globalised market.
In the US, for example, jobs for interpreters and translators are on course to increase by 29% from 2014 to 2024, and the market for outsourced language services and translation-enabling technology grew by more than 5% from 2015 to 2016.
With such seemingly unstoppable growth in both translation services and translation technologies, it would be easy to assume that learning a new language for business purposes might become unnecessary.
However, while translators may be able to help you transform the written word into a user-friendly document or report for your foreign-language partners, they will be unable to bring the personal touch to your meetings and conversations – and there is great value in forging personal relationships with your clients around the world without using an interpreter.
Of course, there are times when translation services may be a huge help for your business – for example, to translate your online content for different markets (or to translate your contact details or business cards into different languages).
They may also help to save you time (or get you started) on urgent projects. But even when you agree that a translator would be valuable for a particular project, we feel certain that you would want to understand the nuances of the translated words – which is why we believe that language learning training will continue to be important for organisations with global ambitions.
Noting the limitations of translation technology
Many translation services utilise some clever technology to do the heavy lifting – but if you have ever tried to translate using an online translator, you may have an idea of how hit and miss these can still be.
Often, the key information is in place but the context is missing, so your finely crafted words can quickly become a halting imitation. Paying an expert company to translate for you should ensure that your words are not only translated word for word, but that they also make sense – however, they may still be missing the finer details that capture the essence of your business’s vision, values and creativity.
The reality of translating technologies suggests that they will always lack the complexity of conversational language, and so effective translations will continue to be dependent on the human touch.
With this in mind, it is easy to see the continuing value of a second language to your organisation: if translators and interpreters are still uniquely valuable to translation services companies (as opposed to sole reliance on translation technologies), then it stands to reason that multilingual employees will continue to be important to globally focused organisations (and that language learning is a wise long-term investment).
In-house language training
Introducing language learning to your organisation is a smart strategy for staying ahead of the global market and anticipating business opportunities overseas. You can also add depth to your translation requirements as they arise through your own nuanced understanding of the language and the intended context, which helps to ensure that your business communications remain clear and on-message, whatever the language.
Simon & Simon can help you structure a language training programme that will keep your business on track for global success. Contact us today to discuss your requirements and to find out more about how we can help you grow your business with confidence in new markets through language learning and cross-cultural training.