Why UK multinationals must embrace language diversity

By addressing language diversity, multinationals can boost productivity and effectively manage new supply chain partners, says Joe Miller, GM of Pocketalk

Although the equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) agenda is well embedded into the modern business environment, it appears that language is an overlooked element in the globalised business world.

Research shows that multinationals are failing to effectively address language diversity and recognise the multiple languages and multilingual workers they have within their businesses. 

The research suggests that while multinationals recognise the importance of the EDI agenda, they often struggle to implement it and focus on a small range of diversity factors that doesn’t include other important dimensions, like language. The study goes on to propose a change in the way multinationals think about diversity and differences.

Sylwia Ciuk of Oxford Brookes University, a co-author of the research said: “Displaying positive attitudes towards language differences and an openness to non-standard language norms, as well as adjusting the communicative behaviour of all members of the organisation are all small, but vital steps to enhance inclusion.”

Long-term supply chain changes

Failure 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.

At the same time, 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. Although the full effects of this change will take years to emerge, countries such as Mexico, India, Vietnam, and Turkey could benefit from the process.                                                                         

There can be many benefits for 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 cultural differences, regional business etiquette and effective language translation solutions, in order to manage new supply chain partners effectively and utilise multilingual workforces.

Managing language diversity  

There is an undeniable 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, to successfully overcome both internal and external communication barriers multinationals need to recognise the language diversity within their teams and make use of multilingual staff to help with translation.

It’s also worth considering investing in English language lessons for team members. This will show them that as a company you want to help them make progress and that it’s important that they have communication skills both for work and for their outside lives. 

Tech 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.

Google Translate offers instant translation 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, Google Translate 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. 

Ultimately, each multinational will have their own requirements based on their individual workforces and environments as well as budgets. Whatever combination of tools and methods you choose to use, assisting workers with translation solutions will boost productivity and help companies thrive in the evolving multinational modern business world.

About Joe Miller

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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