Why foreign languages are still important for business?

Why foreign languages are still important for business?

This piece is not about travelling, it's about skills and what you're missing out while speaking only your mother tongue and developing your business only in one language.

During summer 2016 I was on Erasmus Entrepreneur exchange in Italy. My host wanted to do a press release featuring my project Amolingua and our joint activities with his cooperatives. The first move was to pitch in English as all the information was tailored in the UK. However, it got quickly obvious that you just cannot get the same level of reception from journalists if it's not pitched in their language. The next move was to craft a new press release in Italian which I did together with my colleagues Chiara and David coming from different parts of Italy that also helped to cover a big gap between the South and the North.

The next challenge emerged when the audience started flowing to the website that was only in English, Russian and Chinese. People would either leave the website immediately or ask us obvious questions in the chat app. We couldn't leave our new Italian customers frustrated, we had to localise it as quickly as possible. The same happened previously in Russia and China. Later in Spain and Poland. Now preparing a new system for our website we are tackling the same issue. Therefore if you plan to enter new markets, you need to localise your resources. It's important to admit: not translate, but localise your materials. Otherwise your potential clients will overlook you.

Another issue that wasn't acute for us but painful for many business people is foreign customers. You're used to buying in your own language but you have to sell in your customers'. Many salespeople are using GoogleTranslate and other tools to write emails to keep up with international conversations. However, while training our business students I've burst out laughing uncountable number of times reading their emails to their prospective clients. Coming from the best intentions they would try to sound polite in their native language totally relying on automatic translation. One of the memorable examples was a lady accidentally calling her client a "roost" that he considered as a mocking statement and obviously got insulted.

However if you put an effort and learn at least basics for emails, your customers will appreciate your intention.

The same goes for meetings in-person. A lot of businessmen hire interpreters for their negotiations. However if you're not in tact with the language, you're missing the culture that includes being up to date with major social, economic and political events. It means that if you know your clients' language you can keep up with news that may influence your clients and understand their challenges, the way of thinking and decision-making. This improves your communication and relationship.

Good luck with building your global business!

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