Why UK multinationals need to embrace language diversity now

Diverse supply chain partners and multilingual workforces are the future

Even though the equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) agenda is well established in the modern business environment, language appears to be an overlooked element in the globalised business world.

According to research, multinationals aren’t effectively addressing language diversity and recognising the numerous languages and multilingual workers they have within their companies.

The research suggests that multinationals often struggle to implement a wide EDI agenda rather than focusing on a small range of EDI factors, which doesn’t include managing language barriers. The study goes on to propose a change in the way multinationals think about diversity and differences.

According to Sylwia Ciuk of Oxford Brookes University, a research co-author: “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.”

New global supply chain models

The inability to identify and overcome language barriers 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 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.                                                                         

On the one hand, there can be multiple benefits for businesses looking at supply chain diversification, including opportunities to reduce costs and improve networks. It could even open up new market opportunities. However, communication and cultural barriers can have a big impact if you’re moving to a new supplier with no English-speaking representatives.

Thus, UK multinationals need to carefully consider language barriers, cultural differences and regional business to manage new supply chain partners effectively and utilise multilingual workforces.

Overcoming language barriers  

There is a clear need for interpreters, but this comes with costs and is not always quick to implement. Traditionally, organisations rely on expensive in-person interpreters who are often unavailable whenever needed, which limits their effectiveness. 

Alternatively, there are language lines which offer phone translation services. These can work well as they provide 24/7 services and are more affordable. However, they require a working telephone with a signal and a quiet environment which can be challenging and waiting for a translator to answer the call can take time and come with a hefty cost.

So, to successfully overcome internal and external communication barriers, multinationals need to recognise the language diversity within their teams and use 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 lives outside work. 

Digital tech solutions

Digital technology can also be a massive help in overcoming language barriers, but each translation option has pros and cons.

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. These solutions also rely on a smart device being available to facilitate translation. 

Some standalone digital translation devices can instantly translate 82 languages in audio and text, making it clear to 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 than online options. 

Helping employees thrive 

Anyone can easily 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. 

Other employee benefits include feeling happier and feeling more part of a team, plus improved productivity due to less time wasted on translation. The ability to communicate this way effectively also gives employees the ability to have greater input into their work while improving their long-term career prospects within the company. 

Ultimately, there is no perfect approach to language translation, and each multinational will have its own requirements based on its individual workforce, environments, and budgets. Whatever combination of tools and methods you choose to use, assisting workers with translation solutions will boost productivity and help employees and companies thrive in the modern multinational business world.

Joe Miller, General Manager of digital translation technology company Pocketalk.

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