Why UK multinationals need to embrace language diversity now

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Joe Miller, below, General Manager of digital translation technology company Pocketalk

Recent research shows that UK multinationals aren’t effectively addressing language diversity and recognising the many languages and multilingual workers they have within their businesses.

The research suggests that multinationals often struggle to implement a wide Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) agenda, rather focussing on a small range of EDI factors which doesn’t include managing language barriers.

The research 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, changing the communicative behaviour of all members of multinationals is a small, but crucial step to improve inclusion.

New supply chain models

Failure to recognise and overcome language barriers is not just an internal communications challenge. It is also likely to cause issues for UK multinationals finding new suppliers, which many may be forced to do because of the impact of global labour shortages, Brexit, COVID and the Ukraine-Russia war.

At the same time, new analysis from Morgan Stanley Research shows that a new supply chain model is emerging which is more focused on trade among regional players and allies.

There can be many 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. However, 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.

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

Managing language barriers  

Clearly there is a need for using 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.

Instead, 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. But, 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 tech solutions

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

Although the instant translation technology available online is quick, there are issues with the effectiveness of the translations, and it doesn’t always consider regional dialects and slang. Nor does this option offer a high standard across all languages and it’s often those who speak minority languages that are most impacted by the disconnect.

There are stand-alone digital translation devices like 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.

Ultimately, every multinational will have its own specific requirements based on their individual workforces and environments and budgets. Whatever combination of translation tools and methods you choose to use, assisting workers with translation solutions will boost productivity and help companies thrive.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024