Are There Benefits to Speaking a Non-Native Language in the Workplace?

Learning to use a foreign language in the workplace can be a great challenge. While you’re much more likely to be hired if you speak more than one language, incorporating a non-native tongue into your work life can seem like an intimidating prospect. For many non-native English speakers, this is a reality they have faced for some time. English continues to rise in prominence around the globe and has become the go-to language of many multinational companies. However, other languages are far from obsolete at this point. If you work in Japan, India, Germany, or any other country, you’ll quickly discover that your co-workers will use the local language extensively. If you want to truly connect with the people you work with and assimilate into the native culture, you should definitely make the local tongue a part of your daily life – both at work and at play. Feeling unsure about how this could affect the way you work? Read on to learn some of the upsides, and downsides, of communicating in a native or a non-native tongue.

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While it would seem that a native-speaker of the language of choice in a company will have the distinct upper hand over non-native speakers, this isn’t always the case. One of the most obvious benefits of using your native tongue in the workplace is that you’ll have a better grasp of the intricacies of the language and don’t have to think too hard when you’re in the middle of a heated discussion or trying to convince an opposing party to accept your point of view. You can easily push aside the debate points coming from the non-native speaker who, more likely than not, takes more time to process and come up with responses than you do.

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But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? When you yourself are the non-native speaker going up against someone who has spoken the target language their entire lives? No need to despair, there are actually benefits to not being a native-speaker and ways you can use your burgeoning language skills to your advantage. Firstly, you’re much less likely to put your foot in your mouth when you’re speaking in a non-native tongue. Why? Because when people get excited they tend to talk faster and not really think through what they’re going to say. But since non-native speakers are forced to put thought into each and every sentence, as well as speak more slowly, they have time to consider the implications of their words and are more likely to keep their cool in heated situations.

Furthermore, your decision making skills in a foreign language can actually be better than in your native one! Researchers at the University of Chicago tested people’s ability to make decisions in native and non-native languages by providing test subjects with trap questions and answers – in other words, easy-looking right answers which turned out to be wrong. Those taking the test in a foreign language were much more likely to avoid these traps and choose the correct answer. Even more interesting, researchers learned that when test subjects were faces with difficult moral questions, they tended to think in a less emotional way when approaching it in a non-native tongue. So, while you may be able to fluidly speak your thoughts and make decisions in a native tongue, it definitely has a downside. Taking a look at the issue in a foreign language could actually help you to make a better decision in the long run!

There are obvious benefits to working in both a native tongue and a foreign one and once you manage to balance the two you may find yourself having greater success in the workplace. At the end of the day, it’s always more beneficial to be bilingual. Individuals who can speak more than one language are better equipped to guess what is on someone else’s mind – an ability which can be monumentally useful whether you’re trying to make that big sale or negotiating a pay raise. A monoglot will never have the chance to experience the benefits of using native and non-native languages in the workplace the way you can. And if you don’t speak a second language just yet, it’s never too late to get started!

What do you think are some of the other benefits of speaking a non-native language in the workplace? Do you think it helps or hinders you?