Almost everyone I have spoken to regarding language and culture in international business has said that it is worthwhile to take the time to learn something about the country’s language – even if the other person speaks your language fluently.
This doesn’t mean that you are expected to conduct business negotiations in the language within the first month though! An experienced interpreter can help you with that.
One of Comtec’s clients, a business owner developing training programmes made this very point. She is selling into Saudi Arabia. By learning a few words of Arabic, it has made a real difference for her in getting a relationship started.
I’m sure you know this already, but I think its worth reminding everyone as it is often forgotten. In the end, it is a competitive world. Having a few words of the language gives you the edge, it makes you stand out. You never know, the client might give you the business over someone else because you were the one who took the interest in his language.
So what to learn?
Well, learn some of the essential politeness words. Your business associates will be greatly flattered and it starts off the relationship well. It shows that you don’t take it for granted that everyone speaks English.
Remember that only 6% of the world’s population speaks English as a first language.
So if you are speaking with someone for whom English is not their first language, here are a few tips for making it a bit easier:
- Choose your words well. Don’t use slang or abbreviations.
- Summarise regularly, speak slowly and avoid long complicated sentences.
- Use nouns wherever possible rather than verbs. Nouns are easier for non-native English speakers to learn. For example, rather than ‘What are you aiming to achieve?’ say ‘What are your objectives?’
- If you don’t understand, ask the question in a different way, rather than asking the same question again.
- It is also a good idea to compliment your prospect on their English!
It would be great to hear about other people’s experiences of learning a few words of a language when starting out in a new market. Also do you have any recommendations for language courses to share with other readers?