The Five Universal Languages of Business and How to Interpret Them

As a business executive in the U.S., you undoubtedly speak English. It is, after all, the first most common language in the U.S. The second most common language spoken in the U.S. is Spanish, due to the influx of Central and South American immigrants. These two languages make up two-fifths of the languages most commonly spoken in global business. If you are attempting to expand your company globally, you need to know about all five of the universal languages of business, even if you cannot interpret them. Then you need to find a way to interpret them, and here is how.

The Five Languages of Business

The five languages of business are the same five recognized and used in the U.N. (United Nations).

They are:

  • English
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Chinese
  • Japanese

If you can speak or understand any one of these languages, it can help immensely. (Most CEO's and business execs in other countries are automatically required to learn other languages coming up through school, but it is not a hard and fast rule here in the U.S.) Other people from other countries also appreciate it if you can speak their native tongue as well. When you can only understand bits and pieces or you are not a fluent speaker, then you have to resort to other means of understanding your global business partners.

Means of Translation

Smartphones have apps that can help you translate short phrases if you are in a private meeting with just one or two people. While this may work for short meetings, it does not work for larger group conferences or longer meetings as the apps may interfere with communication. Another option is to wear headphones and let the apps operate as they normally would, but you may miss a nuance or word in the translation.

If you wanted to, you could invest in the high-tech translation equipment similar to the U.N.'s, but it is rather costly. If money is no object, you could install this equipment in your primary conference room or board room. It will translate what others say and deliver it via earbuds, and reverse the translation when you speak.

A final, and better option, is to just hire someone who offers conference interpretation services. This is a less expensive option, since you only have to have this person on an as-needed basis. He or she sits in on your conferences, business meetings and foreign business calls and translates both your words and the foreign partner's words for simple and problem-free communication. If you need documents translated, this type of translator often does that as well.


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