Annett Polaszewski Plath, CEO at Interprefy
We’ve always been told that English is the unofficial language of international business. With an estimated 370 million native English speakers and 978 million who speak it as a second language, it would appear that global communication barriers are merging.
Yet no matter how well anyone speaks English as a second language, at some point they will have experienced the feeling of embarrassment that can occasionally arise in a place where English is the language of choice.
It could be the extra few seconds required to find the correct adjective, or an unfamiliar cultural reference.
Speaking English as a second language will inevitably create barriers that native English speakers never experience, creating a considerable handicap and language barrier.
From presentations to negotiations, the non-native speaker can lose confidence at key moments when the dominant culture is English.
Top native talent is widely lost not because individuals cannot do the job, but because they lack the quality of English required for internal communications.
Individuals across Europe cannot work for multinational firms due to the quality of their English, even if they are highly qualified.
Because, when every internal and external communication is held in English, companies are isolating their employees and their opportunities.
Even those that do join the business will have to work far harder than colleagues to participate in day-to-day activities – from training courses to content creation, conference calls to corporate socialising – adding to an already slower career development.
Individuals are being set up for failure. Companies need to do better to overcome language barriers.
Technology and Tools
Technology is helping re-assert that confidence. An array of tools are helping support written and spoken communication between individuals, with more than 20 conferencing platforms now offering such solutions.
From real-time interpretation services provided by remote interpreters to machine translation, language barriers are being demolished.
As the vast majority of meetings and events were held online in 2020, there’s also an array of conversations that have been freely recorded to help elevate the quality of machine learning and AI translation quality to new heights.
Machine translation tools have seen a big upswing in adoption, alongside solutions to support non-native language speakers in meetings.
For even greater accuracy, real-time interpretation services provided by remote language professionals have been in huge demand – from town hall meetings to large global conferences.
This real-time interpretation of the spoken language provides not only immediacy, but also an understanding of the idiosyncrasies of language use that ensure messages and information are accurately presented and understood.
The use of real-time video captions is also gaining in prominence, able to support inclusivity and accessibility. Other options include working with translation agencies to convert documents and other content and adopting tools that offer built-in translation.
For emails, reports and presentations, grammar tools such as Grammarly can give confidence to individuals who are not totally proficient – or confident – in their written English.
Tools like this don’t just check grammar, but also provide suggestions of alternative words and sentence construction to ensure written content is more readable and accessible to a wider audience.
Culture and Management
In embracing a global talent pool, businesses first need to address the obstacles faced by non-native English speakers as part of their inclusion and diversity strategies.
To break down inherent language barriers, companies can embed the use of such tools within their DNA. Make them an accepted, even expected, part of day-to-day business operations.
Business leaders should lead by example. Not only should they advocate a more diverse culture and the use of translation tools, but also actively explore the cultural differences that may affect individuals’ ability to understand and collaborate.
For example, running a quick workshop that helps multi-national workforces consider the different dynamics in how people speak, react, and even understand their level of passion or drive – all of which can be influenced by culture, nationality or background.
Even smaller organisations will increasingly have a mix of nationalities. We ourselves have 170+ employees spread across 27 different countries. It is important to consider awareness and cultural nuances as part of inclusivity and diversity plans.
Expanding Talent Pool
With the right company culture and technology, a business can open the talent pool floodgates.
The only real constraint is time zone. Ensuring people are working similar hours helps with team building and collaboration, but the added flexibility in our working lives over the past year has eased these concerns.
Being able to reach out to the best individuals in the world is an incredible opportunity for any business, but it’s also gratifying for employees.
Combining an open-language culture with facilitating tools and remote working means employees can work for their dream company without having to uproot and move across the world.
If, of course, they want to relocate, they can also feel confident in their ability to succeed in a new country and company where English – or any other language – is dominant.
Now You’re Speaking My Language
We’re not quite at the level of having a Star Trek Universal Translator in our pockets just yet, but we are close.
With real-time interpretation and the ever improving quality of machine translation, combined with online grammar tools, businesses can provide non-native speaking staff with vital support.
A business that enables every single employee to speak and write in their preferred language will not only expand the global talent base, but level the playing field and give each individual the chance to shine.
Breaking down the language barrier is the future – and it is closer than you think.