Globalization means companies must incorporate foreign languages into their business plan. And it’s not just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42. Even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.
How do you say “Amazon Prime” in Arabic?
Amazon recently acquired online retailer Souq.com, known as the “Amazon” of the Middle East. In doing so, Amazon signaled its intention to bring its disruptive business model to a region of the world that is better known for travel restrictions these days than e-commerce opportunities.
Yet Amazon is not alone in seeing rewards outweighing the risks in the Middle East. Last year, Apple added support for Arabic on its website. So did Netflix. And not long before that, so did Nike and Visa. Arabic speakers may raise suspicions in the eyes of the U.S. government — but in the eyes of corporate America, Arabic speakers raise revenues.
Over the past year there’s been much talk about building walls and tearing down trade agreements. But something else has occurred — the continued global and linguistic expansion of American companies. And it’s not just Arabic that companies are speaking but also Indonesian, Vietnamese, Polish and Turkish.
I’ve been tracking the linguistic growth of companies for 15 years, and I have yet to witness a year in which more than a handful of companies reduced the number of languages they supported. I predict 2017 will be no exception.
Consider Starbucks. In 2003, this aspiring global company supported a mere three languages. Today, it supports 25, which may sound like a lot until you compare it to many other global brands. Among the leading global brands, the average number of languages supported is 31, a new high based on my years of research. And then there are those companies that left 30 languages behind years ago — like Facebook, which supports more than 90 languages, and Google, which supports more than a hundred.
This degree of language growth isn’t just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42, and even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.
So while the U.S. leaders are speaking the rhetoric of isolationism, American companies of all sizes are speaking a different language — in fact, a lot of languages.
This level of disconnect between government and the private sector should raise concerns. We risk sending a message to younger Americans that isolationism is the way of the future, when any Fortune 500 CEO will tell you just the opposite. We purchase products from all corners of the globe. We covet French Champagne, German sedans and Mexican tequila.
Globalization is a two-way street. And we need to teach our next generation how to drive on both sides of this road. Pulling off the road isn’t a long-term strategy.
I empathize with those who fear globalization. Many corporations and governments have taken advantage of poorly constructed or poorly implemented trade deals, and people, animals and environments have suffered. But global trade, if practiced ethically and with empathy, can be a positive force. It helps us to move beyond our differences, and it raises standards of living around the world. It connects us.
The fact is, the forces of globalization have been with us since the Silk Road. What’s different now is that, thanks to the internet, we don’t have to leave the country to explore the world. We were more culturally and linguistically isolated 20 years ago; now, we are all just a click away from an overwhelming flood of foreign languages and crises, a world of languages and information we may not understand. This can be intimidating.
But this is not the time to pull back — nor is it the time to demonize other countries or cultures. It is the time to continue doing what we’ve always been doing, reaching out to all corners of the globe. Let’s not confuse America First with American Only.
Over the past year, the number of global websites supporting Arabic surpassed 50 percent. Despite the actions of the U.S. government, a growing number of companies see a future in emerging markets such as the Middle East, among other regions. Globalization is not the enemy. We have far more to fear from ignorance and from building walls.
Languages are a means to an end, a journey as well as a destination. When a company adds support for a language, it is committing itself to a new country, culture, or region of the world. It is displaying respect, and it is further assimilating into the lives of others. The internet connects devices, but it’s languages, and everything they represent, that connects people.