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Multilingual multitasking

5. April 2016, 14:00

The European Union's twenty-eight countries are home to some twenty-three official languages and two hundred and twenty five dialects, so being multilingual is not only advantageous, it's necessary.

Business is becoming increasingly borderless and global, and companies are more and more likely to seek employees who speak several languages. Salaries are also 5 to 20% higher for multilinguals.

Studies (Vulpe et al., Early Peterson, Thomas and Inkson, Kealy et al.) show that cultural diversity within a team increases the chances that their projects will succeed, and that multicultural teams are less likely to experience failure when compared with teams lacking intercultural backgrounds.

The competitive advantage of companies with multicultural teams is a result of their higher levels of efficiency and productivity. Cultural diversity exposes people to different ways of seeing, doing and understanding things and this encourages them to be creative and innovative. People with different cultural backgrounds will have different ways of approaching and solving complex problems in today's business world.

Multicultural teams are more open-minded and adapt more easily to new developments and situations. The ability of each team member to speak two or more languages adds to their communication skills and tolerance. Since each team member in a culturally diverse work environment has access to an entirely different pool of contacts, more business and trade opportunities as well as chances for new business relations become available.

From the point of view of personal development, mastery of several languages allows for mental flexibility, which entails a greater capacity for reflection and learning as well as the ability to correlate complex concepts. Multilingual people are generally more curious and open to new and different ways of approaching different social situations, as they can navigate freely between different cultural codes of conduct and communication.

Zwetelina Ortega is a specialist in multilinguism and the founder of Lingua Multi, a new educational counseling center for companies who wish to make efficient use of the language resources of their employees. This is important when working with international partners, but it is also important to consider whether the company consists of teams which are culturally and linguistically diverse. (For more information see:

Zwetelina Ortega's Linguamulti is an innovative educational couselling center. It offers parents, teachers and children in schools and kindergartens help in achieving a multilingual environment through workshops and counselling services. Ms Ortega explains the impact of multilingualism in the workplace:

Nowadays more and more people in all branches are multilingual. These people have grown up with more than one language and are therefore exceptionally elocuent and are very aware of the cultural dimensions of their languages. Businesses with employees who belong to more than one culture can communicate more easily with people in companies from other cultures, making these potential customers or business partners.

This capacity is unfortunately not put to good use by companies often enough, or in any case not in a structured manner. This capacity is not just about being able to be understood in another language, it is about gaining trust by recognizing which cultural codes apply in each situation. Multilingual employees can do this so much better than people who learned the other language in a school setting. No advertising can be as advantageous as having employees who can apply the power of language in an intercultural context.

Multilingual employees can adapt easily to the new global way of thinking about and doing business. The ability to thrive globally has now become essential for companies.

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