Speaking sense: translation tech gets an international upgrade

English may be the dominant language of the business world but are local cultures being eroded by company edicts to speak it? Technology offering high-quality translation in real-time offers a solution

Whilst the lingua franca of the business world remains English, this dominance is not always appreciated. It is not unusual for companies to have an English-language mandate that forces their staff to use English across their company, regardless of where a branch is based or the common language of employees.

The idea behind this move is to facilitate more internal communication, but is this an old-school approach? Fortunately, new technology is here to offer us a happy middle-ground.

Language of the people

According to the Harvard Business Review around 1.75 billion people worldwide speak English, with 385 million native and about a billion fluent speakers for whom English is their second language. From this perspective, using English as the standard corporate language makes sense as it is seen as the most accessible and useful language to learn with so many speakers across the globe.

But what about from an employee perspective?

Struggles of new language

Anyone who has tried to learn a new language has experienced the frustration, embarrassment and difficulty of trying to express yourself and not having the words. Now imagine that pressure with the added stress of having your job on the line if you don’t reach the level of fluency needed to keep up with a new English-only mandate.

That’s the experience of non-fluent speakers when companies switch to an English-language approach and this pressure is likely to prevent people from speaking up in meetings for fear of getting things wrong. This can erode the culture of an office as everyone struggles to adapt to a new way of working.

While there are undoubted benefits of being fluent in another language, it is also a stressful experience and can make the working environment more tense and less culturally engaged. There are also questions of accessibility and inclusion if only fluent English speakers can join your company, as not everyone will have had access to the education required to gain fluency.

This means that whilst supporting your staff to learn another language is undoubtably beneficial to them, the way you approach the topic and how you enforce the use of English can vary and these variations will have a significant impact on employee experience within your organisation.

Language and culture loss

Additionally, English’s dominance on the world stage is not unproblematic. CNN report that around 42 per cent of languages are endangered, with one in five languages set to have phased out of use by the end of the century. This loss of language is related to forced assimilation to colonial languages and risks losing alternative cultural touchstones, the value of which are incalculable.

Forcing staff to forgo their native language to achieve convenience may feed into this narrative and contribute towards this language crisis as well as cutting people off from their culture.

Speech solutions

So, what’s the solution? With companies wanting to compete on the world stage but needing to take a sustainable approach to language use, the solution is to encourage diversity. Whilst English is not going away and attempts to support employees to learn a new language may well be received positively, companies will also need to utilise new tools at their disposal to help support employees.

Cabolo and other companies offering translation services for video conferencing or in-person meetings to a 95 per cent level of accuracy are making this easier for companies, ensuring that people from all backgrounds can be included in meetings regardless of their native language and level of English proficiency.

Having beaten companies like Google to the punch in getting the contract with the United Nations, Cabolo has proven that multilingual meetings can be accessible, affordable and realistic in an increasingly international workplace.

Will technologies like this reduce the reliance on the English language §as the primary communicator? Perhaps not entirely, but it can help companies sustain create a culture that remains in touch with local communities and increases levels of inclusion within company spaces.

Read about more technologies that are changing work and the workplace in Echo Callaghan’s roundup in our premium-content Innovation Zone here.

Echo Callaghan is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer with WORKTECH Academy. She holds degrees from the University of York and Trinity College Dublin.
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