When people speak of barriers to entering global markets, they tend to think of prohibitive tariffs, tangled bureaucracies, complicated supply chains and unfamiliar local customs. These formidable challenges have discouraged many entrepreneurs, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, from making the leap into international commerce.
One more basic obstacle is the language barrier. Learning a new language is difficult for many people, especially after they become adults. While Europeans often speak several languages, the U.S. educational system generally has not required students to take more than two years of foreign language study, if at all.
And even those executives who can call upon some rusty Spanish they learned during high school find they can do little more than order a cerveza in a restaurant.
The need for sharp communications skills in Spanish and Portuguese (and English, too) has never been more important. While English remains the universal language of business, some foreign language fluency is required, if only to help forge the personal relationships that are so important to Latin Americans. And it works both ways: For Latin American business people who are looking to widen their markets, English is a must.
Foreign language skills also have boosted many a career. Bilingual executives are in high demand, and executive recruiters prize the combination of fluency and professional accomplishments at almost every level, from the top-ranked managers in the boardroom on down.
Human resources managers and search firms can open doors to professional opportunities that are unparalleled.