Maybe some of you who read my blog think that foreign languages are just for students in secondary schools or universities who need them for credit to graduate and nothing more. If that’s the case, then what I have to say now might surprise you. If this recession has taught us anything, it’s that you shouldn’t take anything for granted and should always be prepared for a rainy day. Well, that’s kind of what it’s like for foreign languages and business. How are businessmen supposed to compete in a global market when they can’t speak the language of the country they are interested in investing? Some of you might argue that it’s unnecessary because there are always locals who know English, have been schooled in the US or England, and can offer their services instead. But some countries expect businessmen to speak or at least understand the language of the country they want to do business with. And American businessmen really should have some knowledge of the country’s history and cultural values in order for their venture to be successful. You wouldn’t want to put a ribs restaurant, for example, in India (cows are sacred) or the Middle East (pork is forbidden). I think you have to understand your customers and that means learning their language and having some idea of their values. The “ugly American” doesn’t just apply to travelers but also to businesses that remain reluctant to adapt to the changing world.
An article I found from September 2007 supports what I’ve said: “The . . . study went on to show that even though English is in the top position as the “lingua franca” for international business, there is also increasing demand for other languages. While around one quarter of the companies surveyed felt that they still needed to improve their English, a similar proportion felt the need to expand into German or French, with Spanish and Russian also featuring prominently in the ranking. Many companies – particularly large ones – also stressed their need for non-European languages such as Chinese, Arabic and Urdu, as they seek to expand into non-European markets.” If you’re interested in reading the entire article, here’s the link: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?aged=0&format=HTML&guiLanguage=en&language=EN&reference=IP/07/1368