Diversity Asia

Respecting and Managing Language Diversity in Asia Fosters Inclusion

Language diversity is a fundamental aspect of Asian culture and identity. For businesses, managing the many languages encountered is challenging, and the right approach begins with understanding the integration of language and culture. -By Jill Motley

Language is a structured communication method conveyed through speech, writing, and body language. It is enormously diverse worldwide, especially in Asia, where approximately 60% of the world’s population lives. Businesses are paying more attention to language diversity, and not just because it refers to a specific language in an area of operation. Language variations are diverse communication methods that reflect cultural, geographical, and historical influences.

Though the multitude of Asian languages can present communication barriers, they can also be assets when considered through the diversity and inclusion lens. For business leaders, the many languages spoken in Asia can be turned into an asset when they are recognized as a source of fostering cultural understanding that strengthens values of diversity. If doing business in Asia, ensuring employees understand the cultural element of diverse languages is as essential as having an interpreter.

Respecting Language Diversity for All Its Value

According to professional translation service Tomedes, the 4.46 billion people in Asia speak some 2,300 languages. The most widely spoken are Chinese, Hindi, Bengali, Indonesian, and Japanese, but there are so many more – Mandarin, Hakka, Arabic, Bangla, Burmese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tamil, and Thai, just to name a few. Languages come from different language families and are rooted in historical cultural development.

Language is more than just communication. It is a way to engage in Asian culture. In addition to the spoken word, in Asia there is also the challenge of understanding the nonverbal communication that accompanies language. Should the Western businessperson look someone in the eye while saying hello in Chinese, and how close should a businessperson stand to a Thai individual when discussing a business matter? From this perspective, whatever language is spoken in the location where a business operates deserves respect and to be seen as an opportunity for relationship building.

Cultural Learning is an Asset

Language diversity is a fascinating topic. It is impossible to learn 2,300 languages, but recognizing the cultural value of language to its people speaking is essential. Language diversity fosters cultural understanding and sensitivity, crucial for successful business operations and intercultural collaboration. Sending someone who only speaks English to Asia without providing the right resources can lead to mistrust and offenses. In each country and ethnic region, people use language in different ways. A good example is found in Hong Kong, which is known for its language diversity. Dynamic Language offers global language solutions, including translation, interpretation, and localization services. Dynamic Language says, “Understanding this multifaceted linguistic landscape is crucial for anyone looking to connect with Hong Kong’s unique cultural identity or engage in business within this dynamic market.” The language diversity in Hong Kong reflects the history in which the city transitioned from being a British colony that spoke English to a Special Administrative Region of China that spoke Mandarin and Cantonese, which are officially recognized. Proficiency in local languages is an asset because it can “enhance cultural connectivity and facilitate deeper engagement with Hong Kong’s diverse populations.”

Develop a Strategy for Managing Language Diversity

There are three strategies for managing language diversity. One is to hire multilingual employees, the second is to employ translation services, and the third is to use translation technology.

Translation services may include someone accompanying business professionals as a translator. In some countries, employing local people is encouraged, and it ensures language and nonverbal communication are correctly interpreted. Multilingualism is common in many parts of Asia, due to the region's diverse linguistic landscapes. For instance, it is not uncommon for individuals in countries like India, Singapore, and Malaysia to be fluent in multiple languages, including regional languages, official languages, and English.

Japan prefers and encourages employing native speakers with deep experience with the language, and doing so can make it easier to develop business relationships. In fact, in Japan, employing native speakers shows respect for the people and their language. Companies with multilingual employees or language resources can effectively navigate diverse Asian markets, but the best strategy depends on how many languages the business expects to encounter. Proficiency in local languages facilitates communication with customers, suppliers, and partners, enabling companies to tailor their products, services, and marketing strategies to specific linguistic and cultural preferences. Employees, like translators, who are proficient in the languages where the company is operating, can interpret cultural nuances, navigate social conventions, and build trust and rapport with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds.

Companies that value and support language diversity can attract and retain top talent from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Employees appreciate opportunities for language learning and cross-cultural exchange, contributing to a vibrant and inclusive workplace culture that fosters employee engagement, loyalty, and productivity. Exposure to different language structures, idioms, and communication styles can also inspire novel ideas, solutions, and approaches to problem-solving, driving business innovation and competitiveness. Technology can help companies overcome language barriers, although it is less personal than utilizing translators or employees. Translation apps, text-to-speech software, voice-to-text, and computer programs can help. Hotcopy, which offers AI content writing tools, says, “The complex nature of Asian languages presents several obstacles, from intricate characters and symbols to diverse dialects and cultural nuances. However, with the help of an AI content writing tool, these challenges can be overcome efficiently and effectively.” AI can also assist with adapting cultural references to enhance the localization process.

Appreciating Language Diversity for Its Cultural Value

The many languages spoken in Asia reflect the rich history of the region. Localization is necessary to successfully do business because it demonstrates respect for the people and their culture, in addition to making effective communication possible. There are several strategies for this, and the best choice depends on the area of operation and the business itself. The diversity of Asian languages is a valuable asset that empowers individuals and businesses to engage with the world, foster collaboration and innovation, and build bridges across cultures and borders. Embracing and leveraging linguistic diversity can lead to a more interconnected, inclusive, and prosperous future for Asia and businesses alike.