Language and business

In a recent survey of British businesses, a quarter of them admitted that they had lost business contracts due to the lack of language skills among their staff. The survey of more than 500 companies in the UK also found that 1 in 10 of them needed to call in translators in order to understand foreign documents as none of their staff were able to read them.

Companies involved in manufacturing, catering and leisure are those most in need of employees with knowledge of foreign languages, and 20% of the companies surveyed said that they would pay higher salaries to staff with language skills.

The most useful language for business, at least in the UK, is quickly becoming Mandarin Chinese, and by 2050 Spanish could challenge English as the language of global business in the Americas.

Do you think it’s better to employ people who already speak other languages, then train them in the other skills they need, or to employ people with the other skills, then train them in the languages?

This entry was posted in Language.

0 Responses to Language and business

  1. Clare says:

    I would say to do both! Businesses know they usually can’t have the perfect candidate and that they’ll probably have to train them up on something. It would be good to see businesses supporting language learning for employees (and maybe even the UK school system giving us a decent chance to learn languages), but it would also be good to have language skills valued and be given practical training. Maybe it would be beneficial for companies to offer some kind of graduate scheme or similar which recruits and trains those with language skills or puts an emphasis on language skills and training for an international career. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office already does this.

  2. Colm says:

    To be honest you don’t need to do a business or commerce degree to work in business, and that’s coming from a graduate of Commerce! Just look at all the people who do an Arts degrees and then get jobs in top companies.

    At the end of the day companies want graduates who are smart and will work hard whether they be graduates of commerce, arts or other fields.

    So I did both in college and took a half arts, half commerce degree with French language and culture making up my arts part.

    So I say you can take a graduate of languages and teach them the commerce but it’s a waste of time taking a commerce graduate and teaching them languages! It just doesn’t work.

    Just look at the example of Canada. After many decades of official bilingualism in the civil service and French immersion in the educational system the results are just not there.

  3. Joe DeRose says:

    I concur with Colm. The fetish companies have with hiring the “absolutely most qualified candidate” distracts them from the importance of hiring people who will improve workplace diversity and fit in with the office environment.

    The person who hired me had the philosphy that she would look for employees who (1) had basic skills and interest in the work that the position required and, more importantly, (2) a personality that she could enjoy working with. She hired people expecting that they knew how to learn what the needed and were willing to do so. And she put together a phenomenal team with this philosophy.

    I’ve thought about these issues with regard to increasing racial/ethnic and gender diversity at my workplace (I am a white male, lest anyone suspect that my enthusiasm is self-serving) – but they certainly pertain to language skills as well.

    Once companies learn to look past the “perfect” résumé, they may well find that their goals are furthered by increasing substantially the weight they give to the diversity people can bring to the office either through their own backgrounds or the languages they speak.

    — Joe / Atlanta / USA

  4. Daniel says:

    I study Economics and the Spanish language and literature at university . . . anyone looking for a bilingual intern for the summer?

    Just kidding (?), but I do agree that Colm is right–again, coming from someone who studies commerce at university. It would be much easier to teach someone the basics of commerce than to train them to do business in a foreign language. I’m also assuming when companies do this they try to rush the process, whereas in formal study one would become much more acquainted with the cultural nuances (just an assumption).

  5. Chibi says:

    Definitely agree that it’s better to hire a non-skilled worker with the language skills than a skilled one without, and teach the other one later. Languages are not (usually) acquired easily, especially getting to the level of technical vocabulary that they would no doubt have to need. It would take FAR less time for an employer to educate a person in the work background than for an employer to educate a person in the language background.

    It’s funny that you mention this kind of stuff because I only recently figured out that this is what I want to be when I grow up…a translator or interpreter…somewhere…

    It’s kind of disheartening to see my fellow classmates all eager to grow up, get their MBA’s or whatever, and pay no attention to learning a language. Their reasoning is also flawed: “Oh, the rest of the world speaks English, why do I need to learn another language,” when they don’t realize that there are cases such as mentioned in the OP where businesses lose contracts due to the language barriers. I feel that there needs to be more of a focus on how global the world has become, and to help those kids realize that learning another language is, in fact, important.

  6. QianZL says:

    Please use Chinese simplified sourcecode to view Chinese characters

    Hello Simon Ager: I have recently visited the “Cantonese” page on Omniglot and found that the Latinized writing system of the language, Penkyamp, still needs a sample. I decided to use the Universal declaration of Human Rights. However, I also found several poems/lyrics in the same Penkyamp system as well. But nothing is justified without the UDHR shown as the example. The poems/lyrics can also serve as a secondary reference. Thank you for the good work!
    Qian Zhongli

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Cantonese Penkyamp Version

    Dày Yät Tiu
    Yantyant sänk yi jìyaw, hãy jeünyim tonk keunlèy seòng yätlòt penkdãnk. Kóydèy fûyáw léysênk tonk leongsämp, bènk yënkgöi yí hënkdày guänhày gê jënksant seöng dôydòi.
    Article 1
    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.



    Nam Hõi Ciu 南海潮
    Honkha mún sã Yeùd tïn dönk pôhiũ 紅霞滿灑粵天東破曉
    Jënkjënkyàtseóng jòy wajeöng 蒸蒸日上序華章
    Honkmin jĩgënk yàw tïm cïnbâg dõ 紅棉紫荊又添千百朶
    Yäntyänt mànsây jeòng 欣欣萬世象
    Ngó gîn göngciu yïyin töy hẽy ná sänbãn 我見江潮依然推起那舢舨
    Keôgsì ceün guô yôkyeúkenklaw sänt lêng gẽnk 卻是穿過玉宇瓊樓新靚景
    Ngó gîu hõiciu bötow bätyîu jé hönkyõnk 我叫海潮波淘不要這洶湧
    Gâg jeù yät pîn mànléy dàiyeong guäysämpcîd 隔住一片萬里大洋帰心切


    a hakka folksong (lyric in cantonese)

    towfä yätyè yím sän honk
    peach blossoms over night dyed the hills red
    mowfäguõ sàt jì gämptim
    without flower the fig is sweet unto itself
    3.爬山云啊过后日头炎 嘿嘿
    pasän want â guôhàw yàttãw yim hëyhëy
    mountain-climbing clouds passed and the sun is hot, hay hay
    yàttãw ceong â sïnìm dàm göng leong
    the hot days are long and i miss my sweet water cool
    dàm göng hãwngòn pâg hõiseun
    at the mouth of sweet water ancor seafaring junks
    toiwän yät yàt dôw gämpmun
    sailing from taiwan to quemoy in one day
    7.愿将明月钩住顺风帆 嘿嘿
    yeùn jeöng menkyeùd ngäwjeù sòntfönk fan hëyhëy
    i wish to hook this new moon to the tail-winded sails, hay hay
    yàmp sänt lawlòng sämp jònk jòi tïn nam
    no matter where i drift, my heart will be bound to southern sky
    sày jeöng ngäw yeùd mànceong lòw jĩn deũn
    i vow to cut short the long winding roads across the countries of au and viet
    yawjĩ guäymòw yeògyin towfä geùn
    wandering son returns from an evening, befatigued like the peach blossoms
    lògfä sifànt pïulòg jòi gäntpun
    in the season of falling flowers, returning to the soil
    dàm göng sõy lawyàp dönkhõi yàw jòwfän want
    sweet water flows to the eastern sea and turns back into clouds



    春曉 孟浩然 Cönt Hĩu Màng Hòw-Yin
    春眠不覺曉, Cönt min bät gôg hĩu,
    處處聞啼鳥。 Ceû ceû mant tay níu.
    夜來風雨聲, Yè loi fönkyeú sënk,
    花落知多少? Fä lòg jï dö sĩu?

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