Oddmund Braaten, CEO at Interprefy
“You’re on mute” has to be one of the most popular (or unpopular) phrases of the past couple of years.
With everyone having to get to grips with the new standard of communication, the likes of Zoom, Teams, and Slack have been the saviours of enterprise comms over this period. But for global businesses, there’s a long-standing issue to do with communication that has so far remained unresolved.
Despite a mass of different communication tools, language barriers are preventing business meetings from reaching their full potential. Staff huddles are isolated depending on the host’s mother tongue, and a lack of support is stopping them from properly connecting, interacting, and engaging with colleagues outside of their geographical border.
We have the ability to communicate with people across the globe at the touch of a button, so why are we so bad at it?
Language barriers preventing growth
As businesses expand, international growth eventually reaches a tipping point. Success takes an international team capable of understanding and speaking the language in each specific region.
The problem of language is one that continues to hold a lot of businesses back. A lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings, low morale, and poor company culture, but it can even lead to more serious consequences. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) study estimated that language barriers contributed to 25 percent of job-related accidents.
Another example where live translation from conference interpreters is needed is during virtual town hall meetings, where company-wide updates are shared between leadership teams and staff. These have become immensely popular recently, but important messages can often go misunderstood or missed completely by non-native speakers.
Language barriers can also be a stumbling block for when businesses host international client meetings. Localised support and cultural understanding is vital in building trust and a working relationship, but you can’t create this if you haven’t got the staff or mechanisms to support it.
The problem of communication is stopping them from growing exponentially, but there is a simple solution that’s right under their noses.
How can businesses remove language barriers?
The typical solution from businesses is to communicate solely in English, yet less than one in five (19%) actually speak the language fluently. The issues of miscommunication, a lack of engagement, and isolation remain.
The other option might be to hire interpreters where relevant for each meeting. But it can quickly become complicated and costly trying to accommodate international staff, clients, and partners on a daily basis.
However, there are tools widely available that can support simultaneous translations for any business setting – the most exciting of which has been the advancement of machine translation technology.
For example, often used alongside live interpreters, the combination of voice recognition software and machine translations is now capable of being used as a standalone solution. The technology can quickly connect international teams involved in smaller, more intimate business meetings or when human interpreters simply aren’t available or viable.
Where a human touch might be more relevant, such as for large-scale events and town hall meetings, remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) is a popular option. Here, interpreters can provide language support from the comfort of their homes, meaning businesses save costs on travel, accomodation, and logistical support while also reducing their carbon footprint and providing real-time interpretation in the language of the attendees choice.
Employee development is also key, and there’s a lot that staff can learn from their colleagues from across the world. In-person and virtual training sessions are therefore a good opportunity to provide interpretation technology to help facilitate better understanding and clearer conversations. You could even take this one step further by using interpretation technology to provide your own workshops on learning different languages and cultures.
Bringing an international flavour to business meetings
Reducing language barriers for meetings means businesses can effectively accommodate diverse teams from across the world, inviting new ways of thinking and problem-solving. But it can also widen the cultural understanding from everyone within the organisation while helping improve cross-border communication, engagement, and morale.
Being able to break down language barriers and communicate with each other is an important factor for international growth. Only when we can communicate in the same language can we start to understand what’s outside of our horizon, build trust, and come closer together.
Whether face-to-face or at the other end of a computer screen, businesses that can remove communication barriers stand to gain a significant competitive advantage.