“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
Above is one of the most frequently referenced quotes related to language learning, with good reason. Mandela himself spoke three languages. Xhosa was his first language. He learned English in school (it was one of his English teachers that gave him the name Nelson) and many people believe it saved his life during his trial because he could defend himself in one of South Africa’s official languages. Finally, he learned Afrikaans while in prison in an effort to communicate better with the guards and political elite.
On February 21st we celebrated International Mother Language Day. Started by UNESCO in 1999, it celebrates multilingual education and the protection of endangered languages. The day highlights the need of people to think beyond their own language and culture as a way to move our society forward.
Mandela would use his language skills throughout his life. His ability to switch languages to meet his purposes was critical to his eventual success and it offers a lesson to us all, particularly those in business.
By now it’s obvious that our economy is becoming ever more multinational, multicultural, and multilingual. Not only does that mean that people should have the ability to do business overseas in languages other than their natural language, but that efforts need to be made to understand and respect each other’s languages within our own organizations.
Every day, new workers come from overseas on a variety of assignments, or they are placed on multinational teams virtually. Your managers might suddenly have subordinates from India, China, or any range of countries. And although those workers may enter the experience with a strong foundation in English already, a manager can make great inroads into forming a cohesive unit with these workers by communicating in their “language of the heart.”
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It might not even be intelligible when first starting out. But it’s the effort that makes the difference.
So, how can you make this happen? And is fluency a necessary goal? Maybe, depending on how much lead-time your managers have and how long you expect to be importing employees from these other countries. Online language learning can play a key role in increasing the harmony of your workplace.
Want more information about helping your managers speak the language of your employees’ hearts? We and HR.com will be presenting a webinar on Wednesday, March 4th, at 1:00pm EST, How to Create a Global-Ready Workforce, featuring new information about the importance of language learning in team collaboration and employee retention, as well as results from a recent survey about how employers and employees view the importance of making their workforce global-ready. Presenters David Creelman and Sheerin Vesin will also walk you through our HR Toolkit, which includes a global readiness talent map, development plan, and talent survey. Don’t miss it!