As you’d expect, language barriers crop up fairly regularly in the world of multinational business; how could they not when there’s often a need to communicate with companies from all corners of the globe? As well as causing problems during face-to-face meetings and conference calls, language barriers can interfere with email communication, create misunderstandings and irritations, and often lead to huge mistakes. They can also introduce feelings of inferiority and loss of respect, so it is essential that these issues are addressed and overcome, especially during the early stages of business.
While there are a few simple rules when it comes to handling language barriers, such as learning the languages of your closest colleagues and clients, taking the time to identify which accents have to be used, and familiarising yourself with buzzwords from around the world, there are a few more general ways of avoiding problem issues. To begin with, be content with a smaller market; rather than attempting to dominate the world, choose to focus on your closest business ties. This will limit the number of languages that need to be spoken during conference calls, and will allow you to become far more skilled in a second, or even third, language. Wherever possible, invest in an interpreter and translator to facilitate communication and assisting with the translation of all documents. Technology is incredibly useful when it comes to interacting with multinational businesses; break the language barrier with translation programs, dedicated multilingual websites and search engines. Seek clarification if you’re ever unsure about the translation of a particular document, or if you aren’t sure how to approach a colleague. Avoid idioms and slang, summarise important points in each language spoken and make use of body language – many gestures can mean the same things regardless of language or culture.
The importance of a multinational education
Just a quick glance at a variety of successful international entrepreneurs will confirm one thing; they tend to come from multinational backgrounds, and will often have studied abroad thus broadening their horizons and cultural knowledge. In addition to learning new languages, studying abroad will help you to create vast business networks and allow you to step into the world of business with much more experience than your competitors. The current CEO of M1 Group, Azmi Mikati, studied at Columbia and gained a BSc degree, before taking over his current position. Azmi no doubt gained a variety of skills during his time in the US, which stands him in good stead in his current role; born in the Middle East, which is typically seen as a developing economy, Azmi will now have a first-hand understanding of how the Western business world works. Imagine being able to approach your multinational business links in the same way, and having effortless conversations with your colleagues. Tempting, isn’t it?
While they can be irritating and even unproductive, these barriers also have the potential to destroy business relationships and frustrate prospective clients. It is imperative, therefore, that you take the time to get to know your colleagues and clients, research their languages and culture, and be prepared to go back to school. You’ll be communicating effortlessly in no time.