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Foreign language learning for business success by Frank Middleton

If you understand a language then you will understand to a large extent the culture that goes with it, and if you understand the culture you will pick up on subtleties that you might otherwise miss. In any negotiation or business relationship the more you understand about the needs and wants of the other party the more likely you are to be able to reach an advantageous outcome (for both sides). This is well recognized, but less widely taken into account is the favourable impression that speaking another language gives about you, and this is what I want to consider.

In the international business world of today the English speaker is at a disadvantage in this regard because the international language of business is English. If you are not a native English speaker the obvious language to learn is English, whereas if you are and you want to learn a new language where do you start? Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian or French are just a few in no particular order which come to mind.

Naturally if you are going to learn a language for business purposes, the language you choose will depend primarily on where you do business. However, in this era of the internet, cheap flights and cheap telephone calls, it is common to establish business relationships world-wide.

It is not realistic to start learning multiple languages well, and so the interesting question is what strategies can be employed to maximise the possibility of foreign language use, with the aim of increased business success in a global market?

The answer is to learn enough of a language to be polite. The potential impact of this is rarely considered, but what impression do you have of a visitor to your country who does not speak a single word of English ? My guess is not a great one. The thought process is often 'that's a bit rude' or 'it's not that difficult to learn hello and goodbye'.
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