In recent years, there has been a steady decline in the foreign language skills of native English speakers. Not only does this skills gap increase the need for English speakers to rely on interpreters with the risk that they misinterpret implicit messages or miss the cultural nuances of what has been said, but it also limits the credibility of professionals working internationally. This has been highlighted by UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague’s recent decision to reopen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s language school as reported recently by the BBC. The Commons Affairs Committee has stressed the need to focus on language skills when implementing promotion criteria for diplomats and has increased the FCO’s spending on language training by 50%. If language ability is neglected the government runs the risk of losing respect internationally and reducing its ability to influence key stakeholders within overseas governments and organisations.
Sceptics may point out that developing high level language skills can be extremely costly and time consuming and that using interpreters or even translation software can be a more immediate and viable alternative. And with the rise of English as a global language don’t most large organisations and senior officials speak English fluently anyway?
However, organisations that adopt this attitude are missing a trick. Speaking the local language fluently improves the speed and ease of communication often leading to smoother messages, speedier decisions and a more engaged audience. Demonstrating an ability to speak the local language fluently also helps enormously when building relationships and establishing trust which in turn leads to increased business opportunities. After all, people do business with people they like and demonstrating that you can speak your counterpart’s language shows that you are interested in them and their culture and are investing your efforts in getting to know them better.
However well you may think your international counterparts speak English, nothing replaces the ability to speak, listen, read and write in their native language. It may be challenging to learn a new language in adult life but motivation will increase when the organisation shows that it values these skills and where professional development or personal improvement are at stake.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2013