How UK multinationals can embrace language diversity

Joe Miller, general Manager of digital translation technology company Pocketalk, explains how language barriers can be overcome
Joe Miller
Speakers of various languages hold flags of their native country

Multinationals are failing to effectively address language diversity and recognise the multiple languages and multilingual workers they have within their businesses, according to recent research

The study suggests that multinationals often struggle to implement a broad Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) agenda, instead focussing on a narrow range of EDI factors which doesn’t include addressing language barriers. 

The research also proposes a change in the way multinationals think about diversity and differences. According to Sylwia Ciuk of Oxford Brookes University, a co-author of the research, adjusting the communicative behaviour of all members of multinationals is a small, but vital step to enhance inclusion.

New global supply chains

The inability to recognise and overcome language barriers is not just an internal communications issue. It is likely to hinder UK multinationals from finding new suppliers, which they may be forced to do after the impact of global labour shortages, Brexit, COVID and the Ukraine-Russia war.

Also, according to new analysis from Morgan Stanley Research, a new supply chain model is emerging which is more focused on trade among regional players and allies. There can be multiple benefits for UK businesses looking at supply chain diversification including opportunities to reduce costs and improving networks. It could even open up new market opportunities. But, communication and cultural barriers can have a big impact if you’re moving to a new supplier which doesn’t have any English-speaking representatives.

This means UK multinationals need to be more mindful than ever of language barriers, cultural differences and regional business in order to manage new supply chain partners effectively and utilise multilingual workforces.

Overcoming language barriers  

There is an overwhelming need for interpreters, but this comes with costs and is not always quick to implement. Traditionally we see organisations rely on expensive in person interpreters who are often not available whenever needed, which limits their effectiveness. 

Alternatively, there are language lines where users can have translations performed over the phone. These can work well as they offer 24/7 services and are more affordable. However, they require a working telephone with signal and a quiet environment which can be challenging.

So, multinationals need to recognise the language diversity within their teams and make use of multilingual staff to help them with translation, to overcome both internal and external communication barriers. In addition, it will help multinationals to invest in English language lessons for team members.

Digital solutions

The right technology can also be a huge help in overcoming language barriers although as you would expect, each different translation option comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

Instant translation technology available online is quick, but there are issues with the effectiveness of the translations. It doesn’t offer a high standard across all languages and it’s often those who speak minority languages that are most impacted by the disconnect. Also, this option doesn’t always consider regional dialects and slang. 

There are stand-alone digital translation devices, such as Pocketalk, that can instantly translate 82 languages both in audio and text making it clear for the users what is being asked or said. These standalone devices harness software that allows for greater accuracy and covers a wider range of languages and dialects compared to online offerings. 

Anyone can use these devices, which fosters better inter-team conversations and relationships. Having all workers at multinationals feel part of a team can be a challenge but the ability to chat with colleagues directly is a great facilitator of better rapport. 

Overall, every multinational will have their own requirements based on their individual workforces. Helping workers with translation solutions will boost productivity and help companies thrive in the evolving multinational modern business world, whatever combination of tools and methods you choose to use, assisting.

Joe Miller is the general manager of the Americas and Europe, Pocketalk. Pocketalk is a multi-sensory two-way translation device. It utilises the best translation engines around the world to provide a consistently accurate experience across 82 languages, including localised dialects and slang.

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February 2, 2023