While technology has enabled unprecedented connectivity and collaboration, a multilingual workforce remains vital to succeed in our increasingly globalized world. But unfortunately, language remains a critical hurdle businesses still need to overcome. Research has shown that full literacy in another language brings substantial economic benefits. Nine out of 10 U.S. employers report reliance on US-based employees with language skills other than English.
Despite this, many employers report that their employees are unable to meet foreign language needs, resulting in lost opportunities and business. But companies that can overcome these challenges can gain a competitive advantage in a competitive market. Here’s why.
Benefits of multilingualism in the workforce
A multilingual workforce means that a company employs individuals proficient in more than one language. Working at a Spanish language teaching school in the US, I’ve seen firsthand how being multilingual can be a game-changer.
Cognitive development/problem-solving skills
Polyglots have greater cognitive flexibility, enhancing their creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. Research shows that people fluent in multiple languages tend to make more rational and impartial decisions, highlighting their objective decision-making approach, which can be a tremendous asset in a professional setting. For instance, having a multilingual human resources team can enhance recruitment decisions.
Moreover, multilingual employees have better communication skills overall and can understand the intentions and perspectives of others. Suppose accountants can fluently discuss financial reporting in various languages. In that case, they can effectively communicate with potential investors and stakeholders from different countries, paving the way for new opportunities and increased growth.
The ability to navigate programming languages with English keywords like “if” and “function” as a non-English speaker demonstrates how being multilingual can influence cognitive development. Furthermore, as a Spanish speaker, I can access programming content in Spanish, communicate and exchange ideas with Spanish-speaking programmers, and read code in Spanish with variable and function names such as “crearUsuario($usuario1).”
Greater diversity in the workspace
The perks of speaking multiple languages don’t just lie in the ability to communicate but also represent a unique culture, way of thinking and set of values. With employees fluent in more than one language, companies can tap into this wealth of knowledge and experience to create innovative products and services that cater to different cultural preferences and needs.
Imagine having numerous Spanish speakers on your team. In that case, you could tap into the Latin American market more easily than other companies. Your employees would be a great help in creating innovative products that could satisfy the region’s needs.
Improved employee retention
Fostering a multilingual workforce can improve employee retention; enabling employees to speak their mother tongue makes them feel valued, understood and included, encouraging a sense of comfort and engagement among employees and increasing job satisfaction and loyalty. Several companies are now integrating multilingual support into their recruitment and training processes by training employees in their native language, offering interpreters for business meetings and ensuring that all materials distributed to employees are translated into the appropriate languages.
How businesses can encourage multilingualism
By implementing the following tips, you can showcase your dedication to nurturing a more inclusive and diverse workplace and promoting language and personal development among your staff.
- Online language training tools: Popular examples that employees can access to learn or improve their language skills are Duolingo, Coursera and FluentU. These tools can be especially beneficial for remote employees.
- Language classes as an employee benefit: This is an effective way to incentivize and support employees in their language-learning journeys. These classes can be conducted in person or online. They can be particularly beneficial for remote workers who live in a country where a different language is spoken from the company’s primary language.
- Encourage the use of multiple languages in the workplace: Employers can offer language support for those who need to become more fluent in the language of the workplace, such as language training or translation services.
- Language exchange programs: Language exchange programs can pair employees who speak different languages to practice and converse in their respective languages. Another approach is establishing language exchange groups, which offer opportunities for employees to regularly practice their language skills and engage in conversations in a supportive environment.
- Rewards: Rewarding employees who hit learning milestones can motivate them to use and improve their language skills.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.