Breaking Through the Language Barrier During Business Expansion

breaking business language barrier
The world is no longer so large, and it is easier than ever for successful businesses to expand overseas into new, non-English-speaking markets. On one hand, markets in other countries are booming, offering plenty of opportunity for high profits. On the other hand, there are several obstacles to succeeding in these markets, including new laws, new cultures – and new languages.

An inability to communicate with your customers is a serious impediment to growth. If you want to build a global brand, you need to learn how to blow past the language barrier to access markets outside the English-speaking world. Here’s how:

Start in Narrow Markets

The small island nation of Papua New Guinea contains more than 800 spoken languages. Indonesia contains over 700 languages, and Mexico utilizes nearly 300. Even eliminating regional dialects and near-dead languages, most major markets in Europe and Asia require knowledge of multiple languages, which means you should consider starting small when venturing into new linguistic territories unless you are a language savant. Ideally, your first non-English market will include:

  • A dominant language spoken by all potential employees and customers
  • Access to an inexpensive supply of labor and/or raw materials
  • A large customer base with a willingness and capability to pay
  • Legal, regulatory and other systematic factors similar to those currently affecting your business

You should examine the qualities of potential markets before you move in to ensure that you aren’t guaranteeing yourself an even greater language-related headache.

Learn the Appropriate Languages

You can’t expect your new market to accept your business if you don’t show respect for the people, culture and language of your new market. At the very least, your market research should uncover the dominant language(s) in your market, which should encourage you to begin picking up key phrases.

Almost immediately upon deciding your new market, you should learn the words for “hello” and “goodbye,” “yes” and “no,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “sorry, I don’t speak [language].” As your business expands, you should expand your capability in the language, so you can communicate effectively with overseas employees and customers. Though you don’t have to become fluent in the language, knowing enough of the language to be understood shows that you recognize the value of your market’s existing culture.

global language business

Lean on Local Experts

Instead of bringing in native English speakers to run your company in a new, non-English market, you should take advantage of the local talent pool for your staffing needs. By doing so, you are essentially hiring experts on the local culture, meaning your employees already know how your new non-English customers behave as well as what they want and need, so you can avoid overspending on extensive market research and testing.

However, not all local talent pools are filled with fluent English speakers. To improve your local experts, you might hire an interpreter – or you might enroll in TESOL masters programs online to teach your new employees English basics while you pick up their language, as well. During this process, you should make translations of all important documents as well as internal and consumer-facing technologies. You should never assume that you, your employees or your customers can understand a non-native language perfectly the first time, so you should clarify as much as necessary to ensure comprehension.

Avoid Casual Xenophobia

Xenophobia is the fear or dislike of people from other countries. Just because you are expanding into international markets doesn’t mean you don’t harbor irrational, deep-seated aversions to non-Americans, but to avoid endangering your brand (not to mention hurting people emotionally or culturally) you should try to quash any latent xenophobia that might arise.

The best way to do this is to activate your empathy. At our cores, we are all humans, which means we have similar experiences, similar thoughts and feelings and similar hopes and dreams. You should try to treat your employees and customers the same as you would hope to be treated in a new and unfamiliar place.

xenophobia in business expansion
Sometimes, xenophobia leaks out when we least expect it. You should try to control casual or unintentional displays of xenophobia by watching your language, avoiding slang or idioms that non-native speakers might not understand. You should strive to include non-native speakers in your conversations, especially those discussions that pertain to their jobs or interests. Then, everyone will feel valued and be prepared to contribute to the company’s success.

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