Whether you are working for a large corporation or running your own company, breaking through into international business is one of the most difficult and rewarding milestones to achieve. While in many cases it doesn’t come easily, one of the best ways to facilitate this process is effective communication. Despite English’s position as a practically universal language, there are degrees of respect, dedication, and cultural competence that are shown through taking on a foreign language.

Translators and foreign correspondence units are valuable in nearly all business pursuits. In fact, knowledge of foreign language may open up opportunities for work travel and unique jobs. It also assists in fostering an environment of acceptance and is welcoming to international individuals who may already be hired, or are soon to be hired. Even if their specific language is not the one being spoken by other individuals, an interest and openness to the language of any foreign nation is a precious element to have in an office setting, especially as the international community is progressively becoming more versed in English.

However, if you are learning foreign language purely in pursuit of business endeavors, your learning process should be tailored to your needs. Take French, for example; If you are intending to learn French only for the purposes of business, you should focus on “Business” French, (also referred to as “Professional” French) rather than “Conversational” French. There will clearly be overlap between the two, but selecting a focus will be extremely helpful in learning the correct vocabulary. Many language learning applications will prompt you with a question regarding what you are learning the language for, and this is the time to make that clear. The system will then tailor the content taught to your needs.

Which language should I be learning?

While learning any foreign language has a multitude of benefits for one’s cognitive development, cultural competency, and international awareness, it carries tremendous weight in the workplace. There is a large marketplace on career networking sites such as LinkedIn and Indeed open only to bilingual individuals, most often with designated languages and regions in which the company needs assistance. As international trade continues to grow, the need for practically all languages in business will grow with it. However, certain industries naturally favor certain languages due to the region in which they are the most active (besides lingual instruction and translation ventures).

Four of the languages in highest demand in the United States workplace currently are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Arabic. To bring things into frame, according to a Statista study of languages spoken at home other than English from 2019, there were approximately 41,757,391 Spanish speakers, 3,494,544 Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese) speakers, 1,763,585 Tagalog speakers, and 1,260,437 Arabic speakers in the United States.

Chinese competency is key in research analysis and global marketing, given the high volume of shipping and product production originating from mainland China. Statista found that in 2019, 28.7% of global good production occurs in China.

Spanish is in high demand in the healthcare field, as a lack of Spanish speaking medical staff is a significant barrier to health services for Spanish speaking individuals. According to Forbes, those who speak Spanish constitute around 13% of the United States population, earning them the position of the largest lingual group in the United States outside of English.

If you are looking to enter into the oil industry or international finance, Arabic is the language to learn for you! According to an Imagery For Citizens article on The Middle East, 60% of the population of the Middle East are Arabic speakers, and the three highest oil producing countries in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates, all have Arabic as their declared national language. The Middle East produces approximately one-third of the world’s total oil output. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Islamic finances have been growing in their interactions with IMF associated regions, conducting their affairs by the way of Shari’ah Islamic law. Given this, there are significant differences between conventional banking and Islamic Banking. A competency in both Arabic (the language of Islam) and the cultural implications is key to maintaining moral and successful business.

If you are interested in the business of hotels, travel, and tourism, you should consider learning Tagalog. Also referenced in its standardized form as Filipino, it is one of the official languages of the Philippines. The tourism industry in the Philippines has been growing progressively, boasting locations such as Cebu, Manila, and Boracay.

Can I learn another language as an adult?

Many people assume that learning a foreign language becomes impossible after they reach adulthood. While it is true that language learning is leaps and bounds easier during childhood, it is still possible to do later on in life. There are many resources that range from free to paid. Here are some of my favorites from experience: Coursera, Ling, and Duolingo.

Coursera: Coursera is an online learning platform offering classes from top universities around the world in a multitude of subjects, including foreign languages. The courses function as a semi-formal class, providing quizzes and assignments with due dates. Coursera also allows for the modification of these due dates in your chosen course in order to fit your work and personal schedules. I am currently enrolled in an Introductory Korean Course taught by a professor from Yonsei University out of Seoul, and have gotten far more out of it than my attempts to study independently from a textbook.

Duolingo: If you have ever dabbled in the world of language learning apps, you have most likely seen their signature green owl, Duo, encouraging you to complete your daily lessons. Duolingo has an extensive language selection library of all learning systems, including full lesson plans in everything from Hawaiian to Scottish Gaelic to Navajo. The app currently has 28.2 million Spanish learners, 5.72 million Chinese learners, and 3.62 million Arabic learners. Despite their large catalog, Duolingo does not currently offer Tagalog lessons for native English speakers (It is currently in development.) For those interested in Tagalog, I would point you towards Ling!

Ling: Ling boasts a whopping 60 languages available for users to learn. Despite its near 24 million speakers, Tagalog is commonly absent from many popular language learning applications. However, full lessons in the language are available here. Ling utilizes a mini game format to help learners absorb information. The app also continuously works to evaluate your progressive fluency.

Although it is undeniable that undertaking the learning of a new language is a tremendous commitment, it is one that will reap plenty of rewards for you and those around you. Even if you begin your pursuit in the interest of business only, you can easily extend your learning into conversational language, and vice-versa. Whereas two years of COVID-19 have made the world feel small, getting involved in the international community reminds us that life goes on, and there is far more world than we know to explore.

Grace Holladay is a third-year student at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. She loves to spend her free time cooking new recipes, binging Marvel movies, and dancing at her university’s rec center.

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