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The Multilingual Workforce: Benefits and Challenges

In today’s world, it is normal for companies to span oceans and continents, with offices in multiple time zones and employees that speak any number of different languages. As valuable as this is in our globalised society, it can also present certain issues to take into consideration. So, what are the challenges and benefits of having a multilingual workforce?

Using a global language 

Challenge: finding a common language within the company and ensuring that employees speak it sufficiently.

Benefits: While it is crucial to have a lingua franca to allow for cross-cultural communication, it is also important to celebrate the linguistic diversity of an organisation. Having a multilingual workforce means that staff are likely to have stronger communication skills compared to their monolingual peers and are able to work more flexibly with better problem-solving skills. Also consider how proficient speakers actually need to be in the common language, whether it is English or otherwise. Do they need to be fluent? Or, does their job necessitate only a basic level of the language? Remember, too, that being a non-native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean having a poorer grasp of the language than a first-language speaker. Often, second-language learners can have a deeper understanding, having dedicated so much time to actively studying the language in comparison to their native counterparts.

Business norms in a multilingual workforce

Challenge: working with different cultural norms and maintaining good business etiquette across the different cultures of the company.

Benefits: Of course, it is vital that employees build awareness of business etiquette in different countries, and the ways that staff from different backgrounds tend to work. Cross-cultural awareness training can go far in improving sensitivity in colleague relations, in turn helping organisations function more efficiently and productively. However, it is useful to remember that employees from different cultural backgrounds will often have local knowledge of different markets. This can provide a better understanding of a consumer base and give indispensable insights into regions that companies may want to expand into. Remember, having a multilingual workforce means that you are able to draw from a wide and diverse pool when hiring, allowing you to attract the best talent.

Cultural sensitivity in a multilingual workforce 

Challenge: ensuring cultural sensitivity and avoiding resorting to narrow stereotypes of colleagues from different backgrounds.

Benefits: With a multilingual workforce, miscommunications can happen, and employees may have preconceived ideas about their colleagues from different backgrounds. However, focusing on the similarities between groups while making staff aware of potential differences, can help employees move past these. What’s more, having a range of backgrounds like this means a wider variety of viewpoints and cultural experiences, allowing for more creative ideas and better innovation.

For organisations with a diverse workforce, FlashAcademy® offers flexible, remote workplace English language training. Teaching general workplace vocabulary alongside health and safety and industry-specific lessons, the platform supports staff to understand key messaging and develop their English skills.

If you want to learn more about how to support your employees with their English language skills, take a look at our Workplace platform or email us to book a free trial today.

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