As leaders and managers in today’s increasingly global marketplace, at some point we’ve all encountered colleagues, partners, or customers who are either multilingual or whose native language differs from your own. Gaining fluency in a new language—and utilizing this skill in private conversation and public forums—sends a powerful message about the strategic vision of a global organization and goes a long way in building trust and strengthening relationships.
As more and more companies look to global expansion, board members and other key decision makers will be looking for leaders who are able to connect with employees of all levels. Having experience working in an international setting and being able to effectively communicate cross-culturally has increasingly become critical for aspiring CEOs and C-suite executives as it allows them to offer broader perspective and thinking, thus making themselves more attractive as potential leadership candidates. More often than not, international work experience is a qualification for CEO positions.
But how can an over-scheduled CEO find time to learn a new language or brush up on old language skills? Setting aside 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week for language sessions will get you off to a great start. It also is best to use the technology that you rely on most, such as your smartphone, tablet, computer or other device. This puts language learning at your fingertips, enabling you to learn at your own pace in a space in which you feel most comfortable.
Here are 5 tips to help you move from foundational learning to language fluency.
1. Start where you are. It is not unusual to have studied languages earlier in life. How much is retained later differs for everyone. Find a program that offers a placement test to identify the appropriate level to restart your language learning. Starting from scratch on a new language? Select a program that thoroughly develops foundational skills before moving on to more challenging lessons.
2. Prioritize speaking confidence. Overcoming reluctance to speak a new language in front of others is a key milestone. As you learn new phrases, such as greetings, use them with native speakers. Seeing that you’ve made the effort will garner instant appreciation and helpful feedback. It also demonstrates your commitment, which goes a long way in building a connection with your team. Today, there are many language learning programs that tap into speech-recognition technology that can guide you to correct pronunciation, allowing you to practice words and sentences until you have mastered them.
3. Focus on business-relevant language. Once you have developed foundational language skills, step up to targeted business- and industry-specific content. Search for advanced language lessons and activities that are relevant to your mission and include both industry and professional vocabulary.
4. Place an accent on culture. Going global doesn’t mean entering new markets and staying within the confines of your native language and culture. Cultural sensitivity, awareness and knowledge adds rich context to the language you are learning. Look for opportunities to understand traditions, cultural nuances, cuisine, art and history connected to the language you are learning.
5. Learn on the go. Tackling language learning often circles back to finding time to do it. Thanks to technology, many language lessons and practice activities are now accessible on smartphones, tablets, desktops—even watches. Yes, there are apps for that, and they are a convenient way to be sure you can fit in language sessions wherever your schedule takes you—whether you are on an airplane, in a car or hotel, or just sitting in your office.
Learning a new language doesn’t happen overnight, but it will allow you to communicate more effectively with internal teams, as well as clients and partners, opening up new worlds and possibilities. Done right, it also can be tremendously satisfying and fun.