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Mastering languages and understanding cultural differences

Posted on from Euro London Appointments

The combination of a rapidly accelerating international economy and access to overseas opportunities means that professionals are beginning to require not only knowledge of foreign languages, but also cultural awareness of the specific nuances of different markets.

Languages – essential tools in business

In our post last year, we addressed the issue of the lack of UK nationals with the necessary linguistic skills necessary to fill the amount of roles available and although we have been through a painful recession, this is still the case. UK business is becoming increasingly tied into one worldwide system, and as such greater global demands are being placed upon business professionals across the board.

We are not just talking about modern European languages like French, German and Spanish. For those that operate beyond traditional European markets, the rapid growth of many foreign economies and markets, especially in Asia, has led to a need for languages like Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese in the business world. And it’s not just required for a small number of deal makers in the biggest companies.

Building meaningful client relationships

Businesses of all sizes can now operate in global markets. If you have a good understanding of the local language of your customer base you gain tremendous advantages in day-to-day business meetings, in negotiations and in building relationships with clients. It makes it so much easier to pick up on cultural differences and nuances.

Languages allow insight into potential new markets and competitors and also make it easier to form relationships so having people on your team who can speak another language can also offer useful marketing and business development skills.

Decrease in language teaching

It’s no surprise that ever since the government made the learning of a foreign language at GCSE level optional, the number of students taking them has fallen. But according to the exam board, Cambridge Assessment, only 75% of the highest achievers take a GCSE exam in a modern language – that’s down from 94% 25 years ago. The research also said that Spanish is set to overtake German as the second most popular language after French.

Three quarters of the highest achievers studying languages is still a high percentage, however it’s worrying that this number has decreased so dramatically. And if it’s falling among the brightest students, what about the rest of the school population? More efforts need to be made to encourage language learning, or the pipeline of linguistic talent in the UK will continue to shrink.

One of the major problem is that there is a perception that the only roles available to linguistically skilled candidates is either as an interpreter or a teacher – but this is just not the case.

10 top jobs using a language

When we worked with some students from Lambeth Academy, we came up with the top 10 jobs that most people don’t know you can do with a language, to highlight that languages can lead to exciting and well rewarded career opportunities. These are all jobs that our consultants have recruited for over the past few years (in no particular order).

  • Video games tester – playing video games to test that they say the right words in the correct language
  • Private jet sales executive – selling private jets, or fractional ownership of them, to high net worth individuals across Europe
  • Football analyst – watching and analysing the latest European football matches and producing reports on the failures and successes of the team. These are passed onto traders to aid investors in betting more successfully
  • International assignment manager – working for a large international company to help colleagues re-locate from country to country. You organise a place to live, schooling if there are any children involved, removals etc
  • Luxury yacht sales manager – selling yearly memberships to “high net worth individuals “ who want to be charted on a route around the world on their private yacht and waited on by their own staff
  • Tour organiser – organising tours for pop bands around Europe, organising and booking venues and general diary and transport management
  • Art editor – editor and designer for a large internal magazine for a global bank
  • Journalist – uncovering the latest scoop on international financial trends and reporting on the information for a financial magazine
  • Press conference assistant – interpreting for Arsenal FC Manager Arsene Wenger and Jose Antonio Reyes for Champions League fixtures in Spain
  • Recruitment consultant – yes we had to get this in – you can work all over the world, recruiting people from all over the world into a range of sectors, from marketing to law, finance and IT

Languages - important skill set

Additionally, we recently undertook a survey of 228 employers - 86% felt that languages were an important skill set.

A respondent, learning & development manager, said:

“Languages are the key to flexibility within a global workplace. They have given me the flexibility to manage HR functions across Western Europe and train people almost globally. I speak Spanish and French which has given me the flexibility to work in South America, the West Indies and Africa."

Another respondent, employee development manager, said:

“Organisations are finding it necessary to provide information, services and products in two or even three languages in order to reach increasingly important customer demographics. These trends are not going to reverse and xenophobes will find themselves more isolated and relegated to the lower rungs of the employment ladder.”

Almost three quarters of respondents ( 74%) cited the traditional western European languages of French, German, Spanish and Italian as the most useful with over a third ( 37%) expressing an opinion that more exotic languages such as Mandarin and Arabic would grow in demand in the future – particularly in areas such as the financial services sector.

Language - key differentiator in employability

There were also some interesting industry and geographical specific languages highlighted by respondents.  Those organisations that had US headquarters cited, not surprisingly, that Spanish and French were the most useful. In the import and export arena, Chinese languages were seen as key while Urdu, Filipino and Russian were seen as useful in shipping. Norwegian and Arabic were cited as being helpful within valuable in the oil and gas sector.

While the recession may be ebbing away and organisations are scaling up their hiring activity, it is still a competitive market out there. Being able to speak another language in what is now a truly global marketplace can be a key differentiator when it comes to employability.

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