Donavan Whyte: The Year Businesses Take Languages Seriously

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Mandarin and German will be the fastest growing business languages of 2014, with Russian following soon after

I anticipate that Chinese Mandarin will see an increase in popularity as one of the most needed languages for businesses in Europe in 2014. As trade with China increases and political barriers fall, demand for communication in Mandarin should increase as UK and European organisations seek to stay ahead of economic progress. This will also further support UK trade and export to countries outside of the EU. I predict that German will likely also see continued investment – Germany is the biggest trading partner for most EU countries and so German will remain an essential language for business as it is currently. Furthermore, by 2020, the BRIC economies are expected to account for nearly 50% of all global GDP growth. For me, Russia is a sleeping giant that holds enormous potential for European business relationships. Hence, as we see such economies grow, I can also see Russian in particular becoming more of a focus for businesses in the future. Securing a strong base in these countries will be critical for investors seeking growth beyond them.

Whilst a range of foreign languages are critical for business success, English will remain the lingua franca of global business in 2014. In particular large international organisations will continue investing in English language training in order to maximise collaboration, innovation and productivity internally over the next twelve months. The World Trade Organisation estimates that 70 percent of the Global 1,000 workforce is made up of non-native English speakers. Whilst learning other languages is incredibly important for building trust and expanding business outreach, English is predominantly used around the globe as a common business language within the organisation.

The provision of the right English language training must not be underestimated as an essential tool to increase productivity and profitability in 2014 through maintaining the very highest levels of health and safety, customer service and workforce efficiency; ultimately affecting the bottom line.

Oil & Gas, Manufacturing and Retail will be the biggest investors in language learning in 2014.  

Whilst practically any business with an international presence requires languages to a certain degree, in my experience these three have a particular need due to the nature of their industries. Health & safety and compliance are critical in the oil & gas and manufacturing industries, with studies showing that 25% of job site accidents can be attributed to language barriers.

Of course, customer service is paramount in retail. High-end retailers with any particular demographic of customers can benefit enormously through ensuring that their staff can communicate with clients in their mother-tongue. Providing service and support in languages that your customers speak increases their loyalty. Even a 5% increase in customer retention can typically result in an 85% increase in aggregate lifetime profits. As high-end retailers increasingly seek to expand their international customer footprint and we see an increasing diversification of international customers visiting London stores for example, imagine the impact of employees being able to speak in the native language of these visitors for securing the very best service and business deals.

Major international sporting events in 2014 could act as a catalyst for language learning in business. 

The next couple of years make for exciting times on the international sporting calendar, and I think it’s very likely that they will have an impact on the way that the UK looks at how language learning can offer opportunities to learn about new cultures. The Brazilian World Cup and the winter Olympics in Russia will expose the nation to a range of cultures and languages which could impact language learning in the UK.

With sponsors, contractors and partners all heading over to make the most of the events we may also see a spike in Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. Official sponsors and partners of the 2014 World Cup will need to prepare for effective communication within their organisation before, during and after the event on the ground and around the world.

The language learning classroom will move online

Millennials want everything to be fast, engaging and on the move whilst achieving instant results. With technology enabling learning on the go, in the coming year I foresee a move from physical classrooms to virtual classrooms. There is no substitution for face to face learning, especially when it comes to languages, but these days, who says you have to be in the same room, or even country, for that to happen? In 2009 more than 3 million primary and secondary students took an online course. This marked a 6,567% increase in those recorded less than ten years previous and I have every confidence that we will continue to see a migration towards this method of flexible learning.

Virtual tutor-time is easy to schedule, cancel, and fit into a busy lifestyle. For those businessmen and women who need languages because they travel, this technology is an invaluable opportunity to keep learning, no matter where they are.

In an ideal world…

I would love to see a senior government official take the mantle and lead the charge for languages in the UK economy this year. There are a number of great groups doing exceptional things to promote multilingualism in the UK, but these are generally smaller separate projects, and there is a limit to how much they can achieve alone. With one voice driving this change across the board we could see some really positive moves in the right direction in the long term. The potential that could be unlocked if we were to become a bilingual economy is enormous, and with the right focus, it’s absolutely within our reach.

Donavan Whyte, VP EMEA Enterprise & Education, Rosetta Stone

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