English is the language of business in most of the world, and in some countries, like India, at least 1 in 10 people speak it as a second or third language. So if you speak English, you can theoretically do business the world over. But is it enough?
A recent article over on the Harvard Business Review on bridging the cultural divide asked if learning Hindi is the key to creating business connections in India. According to one of the individuals being interviewed, you have thousands of entrepreneurs blooming in every region, in every city and in every town. It is no longer a few large industrial groups that control the Indian economy. Many of these young entrepreneurs feel comfortable [doing business] in Hindi. And this is true in many countries where English is fairly widely spoken for business (including China).
Plus, every language has words that are not easily translatable into English, just like many words (and phrases) in English are not easily translatable into some foreign languages. For example, the article mentions the translation of ‘chhatra latak, vaayu jhatak’ for ‘ceiling fan’, which means ‘that which hangs from the roof and sweeps the air’ and a recent article on Matador Abroad gave us 20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world. So there are numerous advantages to knowing a local language.
Of course, if you’re not doing local business, and mainly outsourcing to the region, you probably don’t need to know the local language, but if you’re trying to sell into the region, there can be significant advantages.