Does your business speak languages? If not, you should know that you may be losing up to 16% of sales, according to several European studies. To avoid this, we will tell you the good fundamental practices for introducing multilingualism into your company’s strategy and how to do it even if you don’t have many resources.
We live in a global market. The Internet, e-commerce, social networks, and new communication technologies have erased commercial borders. Today, a small business in any country can sell worldwide, and a local online store can receive orders from buyers thousands of miles away.
The question is: Is your business ready, or are you going to miss all those opportunities?
Companies lose money because of language barriers
A study on multilingualism prepared by the European Commission shows a worrying fact: 11% of European small and medium-sized companies have lost business opportunities due to language problems. We are talking about close to a million companies in the European Union that have had to give up clients, contracts, awards, and alliances due to their lack of language skills.
The most multilingual EU country is Luxembourg, where 99% of citizens speak at least one foreign language. However, the average of European citizens who say they can communicate in a foreign language drops to a modest 54%.
European companies mostly consider English as the most important language for doing international business. Despite this, 25% of SMEs in the continent recognize that they need to improve their level of this language, according to the European Observatory on Multilingualism. And you better hurry up about it: in many European countries, especially in the north of the continent, English is already considered more a basic aptitude of any professional than a differential advantage.
In the case of Spain, the languages most used by companies to sell abroad are English (69.2%), French (55.3%), and Spanish (40.8%), according to another study carried out by the UOC based on European data. On the other hand, the use of Portuguese, German and Italian does not exceed 17% despite being potentially very relevant markets. Furthermore, 15.5% of companies intend to enter new markets that require knowledge of other languages such as Chinese, Russian, Japanese, or Arabic, which will lead to an increase in demand for those languages.
According to the same research, companies are poorly prepared to serve customers from other countries. Only 69.5% of companies have commercial documentation translated into other languages, 77% have not even translated their website into English, and 63% do not have a strategy to serve clients from other countries.
In the case of companies that do have the website or commercial documentation translated into different languages, the quality of these translations should be analysed, since only 10.6% of the companies surveyed have hired translators or interpreters in recent years. The rest have managed these translations internally, which is usually not a good idea considering the risks of unprofessional translations.
It should be remembered that low-quality translations not only pose a problem for the image of companies but can even have legal repercussions. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation requires European companies to inform customers about their privacy policies in a clear and understandable way. The end of the geographical blockade in European e-commerce at the end of 2018 made online stores obliged to accept orders from any country, even if it was different from the market in which they originally sold.
Multilingualism is a good business
To what extent is it worth making an effort to improve a company’s language capabilities? Another European study called the PIMLICO project confirms the great benefits of a multilingual business strategy. 73% of the European companies analysed in the study recorded an increase of more than 16% in their turnover after introducing multilingual trade policies. In addition, SMEs that invested in working with language service providers achieved exports 45% higher than those that did not.
Improving the knowledge of languages is also a benefit for professionals who work in these companies. According to the study on multilingualism prepared by the European Commission, the ability to understand and use languages is an asset for personal development, employability, and competitiveness of workers in these times of increasing unemployment and labor mobility.
Furthermore, from the point of view of companies present in various countries, the command of languages by their employees allows for better communication between workers, which increases the efficiency, quality, and safety of the work performed. Despite this, only 30% of companies offer language courses to their workers during working hours. Most companies offer English courses (87.7%), followed by French (17.4%); the other foreign languages are still in a minority.