Multilingual employees Language and cultural awareness as a economic factor
Companies are missing out on business opportunities by not investing in the foreign-language and intercultural capacities of their employees. In particular, small-size businesses should be sending their workers abroad.
Whether companies are holding conferences with international business partners, dealing with suppliers, selling products and services abroad, or trying to approach new target groups in a domestic market, companies must be willing and able to deal with different languages and cultural scenarios. Roughly five years ago, a study in 2,000 small- and medium-size companies across Europe showed that businesses profit from employees who possess foreign-language and intercultural competence. What's more, because they are actually lagging behind in this regard, many small- and medium-size companies in Europe are missing out on myriad opportunities.
“As an export nation, Germany in particular needs multilingual employees”What was true five years ago is still true today, in particular for Germany. “Germany is a country that lives off of its exports. We therefore need people in management positions who are able to deal with customers and partners from all over the world,” explains Barbara Fabian, director of the EU Education Policy department at the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce. “To do that, employees don't just need to know foreign languages. They need to know that customers in China, India and even France beat to a different drum.”
Fabian therefore recommends that companies send their employees abroad for extended periods during their apprenticeships. “Fortunately, the Vocational Training Act of 2006 states that trainees are allowed to spend up to three months abroad during their training period,” says Fabian. Fabian herself discovered that motivated youth typically jump at the opportunity of going abroad. “They have the best chance of immersing in a foreign language and culture when they are there. It is also a massive opportunity for personal development.”