Multilingual Communication: The Spoken Word

In a global economy, corporate employees increasingly need to communicate in foreign languages, whether in sales, internal meetings, customer support etc. I spoke with Janne Nevasuo, CEO of AAC Global, one of the relatively few localization and translation companies which also offers language, culture and communications skills training. A year ago it was acquired by Sanoma-WSOY, a major stock-listed European media corporation with operations in over 20 countries.

KP: How long have you been in the language training business?
JN: We started with language training already 38 years ago, so we have a very long experience. We offer language training services only to corporate customers, and currently train about 20,000 people every year. For the past 20 years, our language training business has been growing about 15% annually.

KP: So you started with training, and moved to translation later?
JN: Yes, we added translation and localization services, as our corporate training customers started to ask for help in translations. As we have always focused only on corporate customers, it was a very natural growth path for us, helping our customers to handle all their multilingual needs.

KP: What are the main languages you give training for?
JN: English is by far the biggest language, and has been that for practically all the time we have been in business. About 70% of our training is on corporate English, as English is the “universal second language” in business. Demand for Russian is growing continuously.

KP: That is interesting, as so many people now speak English and learn it at school!
JN: That is just the point: school English is not enough for corporate use. Companies need to get their message through to their customers, employees, and partners in several different situations: presentations, meetings, negotiations etc. One can only imagine both the direct and indirect losses accruing from miscommunications and misunderstandings, when people cannot communicate efficiently in English.

KP: So which do you see as the biggest trends in language training?
JN: First of all, corporate language training is actually “substance training”, i.e. training employees about the company’s product or service in a foreign language, and about handling different situations, such as negotiations or presentations, in a foreign language. So corporate language training is rather far removed from language learning at schools; we focus on the substance, key terminology and message.

Another important trend is that language training needs to become part of everyday work and daily processes. The learning should happen without the student actually realizing that he or she is learning, and it should happen during the actual work, using actual materials and doing actual tasks. Nobody has time to go to even a one-day separate course.

New technologies are brining us more efficient solutions for this, such as the extensive terminology tools AAC Global offers. I would like to point out, though, that this does not mean only teach-yourself language learning, as it does not work for everybody. Innovative solutions combining self-paced and tutored learning are needed.

KP: Is language training bought only by big companies?
JN: Certainly not. Companies of all sizes need to communicate in foreign languages, so we serve companies from small to huge global companies. A very important thing to understand is this: nowadays more and more employees in a company need to communicate in a foreign language, regardless of their task. 10 years ago there were a few designated people in the company, typically in the export department, who needed to speak another language. Now practically everyone needs a foreign language, whether in sales, support, business intelligence, marketing… and also when communicating with the company’s own people and partners in other countries.

According to research we have done, people spend up to 1 hour per day looking for the right term or doing a translation. There is thus a lot of room for efficiencies in daily work processes to help people become more multilingual. Actually in large corporations, language training is also part of their HR process, so that the HR department participates in getting just the right kind of language training to each employee.

KP: In previous blog entries, Leonor and Mary talked about the emerging markets. How do you see them?
JN: We have worked especially with Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries. The need for training corporate English is enormous there; typically the companies there have a few people who are fluent in corporate English, but then there is a large gap. Many young people have studied English at school, but still need training in corporate practices and terminologies. Still, these are the same needs as in all other countries.

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