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Rule of tongues

Published on Friday, 13 Dec 2013

Speaking another language opens the door to understanding other cultures. It is also a hugely important business skill, and will only become more so as the global economy expands.

While the ability to speak English has been the deciding factor in the success of many businesses globally, it is increasingly true that its role as the language of international business is under threat.

For example, Brazil has overtaken the UK to become the world's sixth largest economy, meaning fluency in Portuguese will become increasingly useful. Also, the ability to communicate with clients and colleagues in the rapidly growing Russian market will be advantageous.

When speaking to business people who've learned new languages, they talk of the value these skills have brought to their career. Improving your language skills benefits both your personal development and the organisation's capability in an increasingly global business environment.

For those looking to move up, these skills and the cultural intelligence they often come with are indispensable for today's global executives and the organisations they lead. While Asian businesses are typically bilingual, increasingly we need the insight to understand people on their own terms and in their own language. As a result, more trilingual candidates are emerging.

English remains the global business language, but organisations that hire staff fluent in other languages, and include language skills in graduate training, will benefit hugely. Jobseekers should see which languages give them an edge and what will be useful in future.

Marc Burrage is regional director of Hays in Hong Kong

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