Why communicators should embrace multilingualism16 April 2021

Anna McShane, Account Manager

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” – Flora Lewis, American journalist

The benefits of speaking more than one language are widely recognised: improved memory, better job prospects, easier and more enjoyable travel, reduced risk of dementia, and numerous other cognitive, social and lifestyle advantages.

In fact, one Swiss study found that multilingualism has a clear positive correlation with an individual’s salary, the productivity of firms, and even a country’s GDP, stating that the GDP of Switzerland, a nation of polyglots, is augmented by 10 per cent thanks to multilingualism.

A 2015 study into the impact of bilingualism on the recovery of stroke survivors in India showed that those speaking two or more languages were twice as likely to make a cognitive recovery than monolinguals.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a rise in new linguists; popular language learning app Duolingo reported a 300 per cent jump in new users during March last year. This growth is undoubtedly down to lockdown boredom encouraging people to try something new, but it could also in part be attributed to rising job insecurity urging people to strengthen their CVs with a foreign language.

In the workplace, multilinguists bring valuable skills to the teams they work with in every industry and specialism. Alongside their language talents, multilinguists are proven to be better problem-solvers and listeners, with expanded vocabularies and strong interpersonal skills.

In the current social context, where much is being said about inclusion in the workplace, as exemplified by Gong’s work with the annual Dive In festival, a diversity and inclusion festival for the global insurance industry, being multilingual improves our understanding of different ways of thinking. Each language has its own historical, social, and economic background, shaping a country’s culture and idiomatic traditions (e.g. regional dialects or familiar expressions). With Dive In now taking place in 32 different countries having colleagues that can interact easily with other cultures enhances a company’s social environment and leads to greater inclusivity.

Improved communication skills are another well documented advantage of multilingualism. Various studies have shown that children growing up in environments where more than one language is spoken were better at understanding other people’s perspectives, a key social skill that drives good communication. Multilingualism can also bring heightened sensitivity towards cultural awareness. Speaking different languages makes you more open to dialogue with other cultures.

As communications experts working with a global client base, the skills that multilinguals bring to our industry are undeniable. Gong’s African client base makes us especially aware of this. We work with a variety of businesses across a continent that is home to more than 2,000 distinct languages – a third of the world’s languages. In a core team of 15, we’re proud to speak a total of 12 languages between us, from Greek to Kiswahili. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are a core part of what we do as communicators, and linguistic diversity is a notable valuable asset.