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HR and Translation – Part 2: Corporate Translation and Language Learning

Human Resources plays a significant role in setting the cultural tone of a company. Employers have an obligation to provide a safe and effective workplace for employees. As part of that responsibility, they play a part in facing and eliminating language barriers at work. In the second part of this two-part series, we examine how translation and language learning are good for the company, the employee, and the economy.

Many of today’s businesses continue to expand and operate globally. Companies interact with suppliers worldwide, trading and shipping internationally and selling to customers across continents. Employers must adapt to meet the challenges of global mobility by creating a global workforce and a working environment that enables productivity.

To operate on this level, companies need strong customer and supplier relationships that span many languages. Building and maintaining these powerful relationships requires efficient communication, but many organizations have employees who still lack the language skills needed to bridge communication, which is hindering cross-border interactions.

A language learning and translation strategy positively influences the company, the employee, and the economy. Let’s take a look at the impact of each.


The company

There is an inherent need for translation and language learning in the workplace. Starting within a company, when there is a lack of language proficiency within an organization, managers often rely on other employees to translate for those who speak little or no English regarding day-to-day communication. Alternatively, supervisors get by with hand gestures and Google Translate. Some companies and executives opt to hire bilingual managers, while others provide foreign language training for those who supervise non-native English speakers. These language barriers can better be addressed at the HR level with a translation strategy and interpretation in the workplace.

For all employees to feel equal, having critical documents available in the native languages of all employees is significant. Addressing language needs and concerns within a company has many benefits, including the following:

  • Improved productivity – Research shows that improved language skills save workers three hours or more a week. This wasted time is often spent on language translation or resolving miscommunication issues. Language proficiency improves productivity regardless of a worker’s position.
  • Increased employee retention – One of the most common challenges for HR is keeping employees happy. A shared language helps increase employee retention by allowing employees to communicate more comfortably with coworkers. Additionally, language training makes employees feel more engaged in their work since their company has invested in them.

After language barriers within a company are addressed, a language learning strategy should be considered for global expansion. Foreign language skills are critical in today’s global economy. Better customer understanding is one of the biggest benefits for employees learning the native language for which the organization plans to expand. With global expansion comes a shifting customer base, and in order to truly know the customer, it is crucial to speak and understand the native language. Language training and learning within an organization hold even more significance.


The employee

Translation and language learning in the workplace has a direct benefit to the employee as well as the company as a whole. Translating critical documents and communications for non-native language speakers ensures that all employees feel valued. When a company invests in its employees, job satisfaction is typically higher.

Language learning programs help companies expand globally and benefit employees’ personal growth. Additionally, the increased proficiency and confidence gained from language training directly result in promotions and upward mobility within a company or in new opportunities.

Programs that promote professional and personal growth improve morale within the company—an atmosphere of learning results in a pleasant, engaged culture. If language learning is something that employees want, then they’ll have a feeling that their company is invested in them.

The cost of such programs can vary, but the key to a successful language program is customizing it to the individual employees’ needs and making participation voluntary. Looking back at the first part of this series, McDonald’s “English Under the Arches” program is a good example of a successful language program. This voluntary program helps employees improve their language skills in order to accept greater responsibilities and advance within the company. The company saw improved productivity, but the employees gained confidence inside and outside the workplace.


The economy

Most American businesses and entrepreneurs consider English to be the international language of business. This idea hinders businesses and employees in that it leads them to believe that learning another language isn’t worth the time spent on education and it isn’t a necessary business strategy. However, the US Committee on Economic Development (CED) has found that American businesses lose more than $2 billion annually because of language or cultural misunderstandings.

This trend and mindset do not help America’s economic potential. To succeed in international business, companies need to be able to accommodate foreign clients and communicate with them effectively. Despite this need, America is a shockingly monolingual nation. More than half (56%) of Europeans are bilingual, compared to less than a quarter (18%) of Americans, according to research from the European Commission. With statistics like these, it’s probably clear that translation and language services are critical to our country’s economic growth.

Selling goods and services in foreign markets requires cultural knowledge, which in turn relies on translation and interpretation. These exchanges are directly related to economic development in that they help businesses grow internationally and promote job growth. Both are big factors in boosting the economy. Each new translation project creates numerous job openings across various platforms. With the help of translation and language learning in the workplace, our economy has the potential to be greatly impacted, although, on the whole, our country has a long way to go.

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