My grandparents migrated here from Mexico nearly 100 years ago. They did not speak a word of English when they arrived here. When they had children they insisted that they integrate in to the American schools and adopt English as their primary language. Spanish was spoken in the home but my mother, aunts, and uncles learned to use both languages depending upon the circumstance and surroundings. Over time, however, the ability to speak, read, and write in Spanish slowly dissipated from the family and now three generations later no one is fluent.
It's difficult to speak multiple languages. Not everyone is born with the ability and gift to communicate in different dialects. It's estimated that only 21% of Americans speak a second language other than English. Multilingual individuals show much more brain activity in the right hemisphere of the brain. Science shows us that right-brain thinkers are generally more intuitive, thoughtful, and creative.
Being bilingual comes with many positive neurobiological effects for those who speak multiple languages from an early age. Increased ability to concentrate, protection from early onset dementia, better organization of speech and communication tasks, and an increase in ability to heal from traumatic brain injuries are all benefits that can be found in those individuals who have the ability to speak more than one language.
Scientists have also proven that those who speak multiple languages can take on a different personality depending upon the dialect they are speaking at the time. An individual who can come across as patient, understanding, and thoughtful when speaking one language can also display a harsh, stern, or agitated personality when using a different vernacular.
So how does all this talk of being multilingual have anything to do with how we conduct business? It's very simple. If you're an entrepreneur or small business owner you are already bilingual you just may not know it. Every one of our customers speaks a different language. How successful we are at communicating to those clients will determine the future of the generations coming up behind us.
Are you a right-brain or left-brain business owner?
Do you spend the majority of your time crunching numbers, creating proposals, and building spreadsheets? Is your joy instead found in shaking hands, greeting people, communicating to your audience, and being personable? Just like monolinguals, not everyone is cut out to speak more than one language. Some small business owners know how to play to their strengths and then surround themselves with other team members who can pick up the slack in areas they are lacking. Consider yourself ahead of the pack if you happen to be one of the few individuals who can handle being fluent in multiple facets of your business.
Are you a Bipolar Bilingual?
If you do have the ability to drive, create, and organize your business while at the same time being out on the front lines handling your clients and customers then how consistent is your personality? Would your consumers and employees describe the same person when asked about you? Do you have a tendency to display a fun-loving and caring personality when the spotlight is on but if the curtain got pulled back you'd be revealed as a hard-nosed and demanding boss? Being business bilingual means we have to communicate in the same manner to everyone who crosses our path. It does us no good to exhibit positive affirmations and excellent service to our clients if we are despised by the employees we rely upon to help us with our success and vice versa.
Do you know the language of your customers?
Have you ever been around two people trying to talk to one another who don't speak the same language? They try their best to communicate to each other but usually they just end up talking slower and louder thinking somehow this will help bridge the divide. Eventually the conversation breaks down in to a small game of charades as they point and act out what it is they're trying to say. This is certainly not the most effective way to interact. Do you know how to communicate to your clients? Do you know their language? What form of communication do they prefer? Are they young and tech savvy who would rather you text them instead of call them? Is your customer base older and even an email or a fax is beyond their comprehension? You have to speak the language of your clientele and identify gaps in communication so that you can be effective in getting your message across to them.
How proficient is your native dialect?
The overwhelming majority of Americans were born in to English speaking households but depending upon each individuals education and upbringing those linguistic skills can vary. As business owners we too have a language we were born to speak depending upon our chosen profession, personalities and characteristics. However, do you even speak your primary language well? It doesn't do us any good to be bilingual if we're not effective in either given speech. If you're not an individual that can be multilingual then be outstanding in your primary dialect. Were you born to be a bean counter instead of a customer service representative? Then be the best bean counter you can be. Pick your main language and then excel.
Does your business have too thick of an accent?
English can be spoken by two different people in two different parts of the Country and sound incredibly different. New Yorkers, Texans, and residents of Minnesota can say the same word and have the pronunciation vary greatly. Sometimes to the point of being almost unrecognizable if you aren't from that area. So, what accent does your business have? If you're a mortgage lender, real estate agent, or sandwich shop owner, is your language difficult to decipher by those who aren't directly from around your area? How well do you enunciate who you are and what it is you do so that individuals from all around can understand clearly what you're saying?
Being multilingual when it comes to business gives you the upper hand in countless ways. Immersing ourselves in different cultures can enrich our own business lives and help us achieve success in ways we never thought possible. Being bilingual when it comes to our careers can put us on a larger and more firm foundation, and ensure our message spans generations and borders. We should all strive to speak more than just one language.