More and more, with the internet making global business a much easier proposition, and with more companies setting up international headquarters all over the world, it is becoming increasingly important for a common manner of speech for all parties to communicate with one another. And, like it or not, it seems to be that English is the go-to language.
Daimler-Chrysler, Nokia, Renault, Samsung, Microsoft in Beijing, and many, many more, are instituting English as a common corporate language used to increase performance and ease communication within multinational companies as well as doing business with other companies worldwide.
It is easy to see how companies like Microsoft, with multiple headquarters, would need employees to be able to speak together. And just because Samsung and Kia Motors are both headquartered in South Korea doesn’t mean a meeting between them wouldn’t possibly require an interpreter. There is more than one story in the business world of meetings with the assumption of a common language that ended up unable to have the meeting because no one in the room spoke the same language.
Rakuten, Japan’s biggest online marketplace, mandated in 2010 that English would be the company’s official language, a decision that affected more than 7,000 employees within the organization. The policy was enacted shortly after aquiring PriceMinister.com from France, Buy.com and FreeCause in the United Sates, Play.com in the UK, Tradoria in Germany, Kobo eBooks in Canada, and many more joint ventures began in five other Asian and South American countries in an effort to drive the company goal of becoming the number one internet service company in the world. That goal that would not be achievable with a Japanese language barrier.
Out of all of the languages spoken on the planet, English is spoken, on a conversational level at minimum, by 1.75 billion people worldwide. That’s one in four people globally. Native speakers in the US, UK, and Australia only make up a small fraction of these English Speakers. Former colonies such as India and Nigeria make up a billion of these speakers, and many more foreign countries have English as a course in schools as a second language.
While it is no short order to demand an entire workforce to speak a language not native to it’s employees, it has paid off in most companies that have instituted the policy. Unrestricted and undirected multilingualism is not efficient, and with the largest portion of the world speaking English as a first, second, or third language, it only makes sense for most companies wishing to be competitive globally to adapt in this direction. Global competition is making it increasingly difficult to sell your product or service when you are limited to only your native language.
With companies opening offices around the world, it becomes increasing important for geographically-dispersed employees to be able to brainstorm, have meetings, and work together to complete tasks and meet goals with no language impediment.
It’s not all perfect, though. There are efficiency issues that can appear with forcing a staff to do business in a non-native language. Learning English on top of a full workload can lead to burnout. The costs associated with a one-language policy are not insignificant. And the psychological blow it can give to employees when enacted is nothing to sneeze at. Requiring translation headsets, homework, or translating software to communicate in the learning curve can make employees feel less valuable at their jobs, less competent, like observers rather than driving forces. It can inhibit brainstorming, communication, and problem solving within the company if an employee does not feel capable of translating his or her thoughts thoroughly.
If this is a choice a company chooses to employ, it is necessary to also employ a thorough campaign explaining WHY. Employees must see the need to be competitive globally and be driven to learn because of the passion employed by the company in becoming the best of the best in the world. They must have time to practice language during work hours, and the work of management to encourage employees and fan the flame must be consistent over years of this process to maintain standards and morale.