Say ¡Bienvenidos! to the Global Economy

atlas-62742_640“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” – Charlemagne.

I certainly love the sentiment in that Charlemagne quote, but for the practical small business owner, being able to speak a second language in today’s global marketplace and increasingly polyglot United States does even more: it can be a distinct competitive advantage.

A friend of mine – an Anglo – speaks Spanish quite well. He once supervised a fairly large assembly line in California where Spanish was the first language of almost half the workers.

He remembers his first few days on the job. He hadn’t used his Spanish yet or told anyone he could speak Spanish but he overheard several employees speaking among themselves saying, “I think he knows Spanish.” They could sense it.

Advantages of a second language

It was a great group of employees and his ability to speak Spanish created more loyalty and better shop floor communication. People are more relaxed and open when they are speaking their first language. If you’ve ever been in a country where few speak English, you know how relieved you are when you finally connect with someone who does.

The workplace certainly requires command of a common language among employees, but when the owner or manager speaks a second language, it can be a very useful tool. This is even more important when overseas expansion is a possibility.

Fortunately we have a wealth of resources today that can get us well along the road of learning a second language. Gone are the days when all you got was a box of cassette tapes and some workbooks when you purchased a language course. Rosetta Stone, for example, is mostly Internet-based today and it uses sophisticated software to guide your learning.

There are plenty of free language learning resources on the Internet and they’ll serve you well if all you need right now is an introduction to a language. However, to push  yourself further than the most common conversational phrases, you’ll need a bigger commitment, in time and probably in money as well.

Local courses

Beyond web resources, one of the best ways to get some serious second language skills is by signing up for a course at a local community college. The instruction there will be more formal and held on a regular schedule. The discipline of attending a class a couple of nights a week on a continuing basis will probably help you learn more quickly. Sometimes when we plan to pursue a self-paced course in our free time, we find that we don’t have any free time.

If you have children studying a second language in school you might ask to see their materials and unofficially “audit” their coursework from home to give you at least an overview of what to expect.

Of course, before you jump into learning a second language, give some thought to which language will best serve the interests of growing and managing your business. Spanish is certainly a strong candidate in many cases, but if expansion into Asia is on your radar screen, you might want to go in that direction.

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Image: Public Domain CC0.