Companies need language ambassadors

A good ambassador is worth the expense
A good ambassador is worth the expense.

A company can display their genuine interest in international clients by showcasing the language abilities and cultural interests among their employees.  Clients enjoy connecting personally with people in your organization, so companies should present their most personal face by recruiting those with exceptional language skills and cultural intelligence.

I recently had the opportunity to help out with a delegation from Russia.  The company my friend works for had some potential clients come from Russia to take a tour of the local facility in Minnesota.  Although the company hired a professional interpreter, I was asked to accompany the delegation to a couple of dinners because I speak Russian.

After long days of tours and presentations, these conversations were relaxing for them.  We didn’t talk “shop”; we talked about life in Russia vs. Minnesota, such as traffic and prices and we learned a lot about one another.  They could talk in their native language about their culture and learn more about US and Minnesota culture.  Meals were not typical work-trip meals but time spent in pleasant company, relaxing and learning.

Towards the end of the visit, one of the Russians smiled and said, “How surprising that we come to the US and we keep finding people who speak Russian!”  My presence told these Russian potential customers that the company with whom they were thinking of partnering cared enough to connect with them in a substantial way and to surround them with an atmosphere that would be comfortable for them.

Significantly, these conversations took place with a “pure” American, so they could peer more directly into the cultural divide.  We have many immigrants from Russia in Minnesota; our interpreter was one.  I, however, was a complete outsider: fifth generation American, no Russian background.  I had no reason to learn Russian culture except out of personal interest.  They were intrigued.  Why did you learn Russian?  What do you think of Russian culture?  Tell us how Americans think!  My interest in people and their background, substantiated by work in learning languages, made a profound impression.

Ultimately, the Russian guests had a nice time and left with a great impression of the US and my friend’s company.  My affiliation with my friend’s company and my personal interest in Russian culture demonstrated that the company and our country are interested in these guests by going the extra mile to make a connection with these potential customers.

Companies in the US will attract more interest from foreign clients if they cultivate linguistic knowledge and cultural intelligence, whether by recruiting employees with these skills, finding existing employees who possess them, or training current employees in them.  My friend’s company made a wonderful impression on these potential customers by bringing me in, not because of me per se but because they made the effort to connect with the clients’ language and culture.  As the marketplace becomes more global, offering up culture and language ambassadors will provide an important edge to winning over clients.

What do you think are cost-effective ways that companies can prepare themselves to make great impressions on foreign clients?

Photo credit: Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0

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5 thoughts on “Companies need language ambassadors

    1. Thank you for saying so. As you well know, a foreigner who speaks Russian makes a *big* impression on a Russian. And an American who speaks a foreign language makes good impressions on many people.

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  1. Congratulations! You made a good job and surely showed your friends company where they could invest in: someone with a great passion not only for languages but also for the respective cultures. To answer your question, I think that companies should invest more in social and cultural intelligent people with a considerable linguistic knowledge, like you.

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    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I think that companies should look into screening for these abilities. Even I don’t think about it much when I’m hiring at work–why look for these skill at the lower levels? But the people at the lower level eventually make their way up the ladder. I’m interested in thinking about how to cultivate these skills once people are already in the company.

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  2. Pingback: Focus and endurance: Long-term motivation for learning languages | Loving Language

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