Multiculturalism presents many obstacles to businesses but also offers many opportunities. One aspect of multiculturalism is multilingualism, and an influx of immigrants means an influx of human resources. We should take advantage of the multilingualism prevalent in modern Britain. Professor Nigel Vincent, president at The British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, thinks that the deficit in multilingual graduates will negatively impact the British economy. Employers wanting to branch out into non-English speaking markets are finding they have to recruit abroad or train graduates in new languages. Britain’s monolingual culture may be limiting growth because our missed opportunities are being seized by companies from more multilingual countries.
If, while perusing the more exotic corners of the internet, you’ve encountered a page in an unfamiliar language, then you might have seen the handy option to translate it using Google Translate. Though pleasingly convenient, it is quite apparent to anyone who has used it that Google Translate does not always produce the most accurate translations. Google Translate is great for checking products on e-commerce sites for example, but if you actually need to understand the details of an article or the main text on a website, then Google Translate will probably just confuse things.
For example, if you translate the question, “Hey, are you busy tonight?” into German, you get “, bist du damit beschäftigt heute abend?” Which translated literally means, “Hey, are you busy with this tonight?” Google Translate just added the “with this” part for no apparent reason and thereby changed the meaning of the question. Clearly you can’t rely on Google Translate for any important German translations . The alternative is to recruit people who speak multiple languages, and that’s where living in a multicultural society can be lucrative.
Other countries recognise the importance of language learning and multilingualism for the health of the economy in a globalised marketplace. But as English speakers, we have a tendency to assume we can get by with our native tongue alone. It is supposed to be the international language of commerce after all! Some argue that only call centres need employees with foreign language skills, an opinion vehemently contested by Professor Vincent.
“The evidence is that language skills are valuable at all levels, from the person answering the telephone to senior executives and consultants,” he told me, and even maintained that the higher up the chain one goes in business, the less likely it is that technology will replace human agency.
Immigrants aren’t just unskilled labourers. Amongst them and their families there are valuable and untapped human resources that can help bring your business to the global marketplace.
About the Author: Thomas Rowsell is a professional copywriter, journalist and film maker. He is employed by the global translation agency EmpowerLingua. Launched in 2011, EmpowerLingua is renowned for providing prompt, personal and professional language services to the legal, corporate and public sectors.