While English is still considered to be the “language of business”, there are some other languages that are becoming more common in the business arena. Many non-American business people have the advantage of being fluent in more than one language. In the past, it was expected that business would be conducted in English. This is still the assumption; however it cannot always be an unwritten rule in today’s business environment. Many businesses are either hiring bilingual employees or are finding translation services that would provide support for written exchanges. For business people interested in looking into learning another language or seeking the services of a translation company, the following languages would be good places to start.
- Chinese (Mandarin) – A rapidly growing player in international business, China is becoming an economic powerhouse in world markets. More than 1.2 billion people speak Chinese making it the most commonly spoken language in the world. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to have the capability to produce both business-to-business and consumer-focused materials about the company. As China becomes a more desirable trade partner and location for outsourcing, communicating with other business professional, consultants, and workers that only speak Chinese will become essential. Additionally, with the largest consumer base in the world, advertising in Chinese can dramatically affect a company’s bottom line in a positive way.
- Arabic – With more than 300 million speakers and the official language of twenty countries, Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world. The Middle East, where nearly all countries have Arabic as their official language, is an opening market for global business. This part of the world is becoming a leader in technology and finance in addition to its key role in global oil sales and production. Whether seeking a trading partner or a new customer base, having materials and access to language capabilities in Arabic is becoming a need for many companies.
- Spanish – Spoken by nearly 330 million people worldwide, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the world, just edging English out. Spanish is spoken in forty-four countries worldwide with many of these countries being up-and-coming players in the international business market. For native English speakers, Spanish is considered to be one of the easiest to learn as it is very similar to English as many Spanish words are cognates, words that sound similar in both languages. In the fields of US health care and education, speaking Spanish or offering sales materials and products written in Spanish are essential as these areas have significant members for whom Spanish is their home language.
- German – A stalwart language for business, German is still a widely spoken, with approximately 80 million+ speakers worldwide. As Germany and Austria are two of the economically strongest members of the EU, businesses who wish to do business in the EU should have materials available in German. The German economy is extremely stable and German businesses have become experts in producing and exporting products, second only to China. Many popular world brands, such as BMW, Bayer, and Siemens to name a few. Academia, particularly in the science fields, is dominated by research and materials written in German. As companies seek to forge business relationships, develop a customer base, or establish trading partner relationships in the EU, businesses will learn quickly that fully one-third of business is conducted in German.
- Russian – Russia has undergone many changes in past decades. Steadily moving into the global business market, Russia brings with it 285 million speakers of Russian as well as speakers of other languages who lived in former Soviet states in which Russian was the primary language. As the former Soviet states and Eastern Europe become more involved with international business, materials available in and speakers of Russian will become an important part of most companies’ international marketing plans. Russia has steadily opened its borders to multi-national companies and has the workforce and resources to establish itself as a lucrative location for businesses looking to expand into Europe and Asia. Having the ability to communicate in Russian will open a great many opportunities for businesses willing to take advantage of them.
While English is still the primary language of business, it is no longer the sole option. Business is now a global, multi-national venture both in business-to-business dealings as well as a company’s interaction with its workers and customers. Businesses that are interested in growth and expansion will have to consider having materials available in other languages – with these five being a great place to start!
Michael Bastin runs BeTranslated.com, a professional translation agency with offices in the USA and Europe.