Knowing a second language broadens a comms skill set

With the US Hispanic population consistently growing and more companies targeting multicultural audiences, the ability to speak and understand a second language is an important skill in communications.

With the US Hispanic population consistently growing and more companies targeting multicultural audiences, the ability to speak and understand a second language is an important skill in communications.

“We are more focused on diversity than ever before, and language is such a critical part of how we understand that diversity,” says Armando Azarloza, president of the Axis Agency, where the entire firm speaks Spanish.

Wade Guang, MD at InterTrend, which focuses on Asian-American outreach, agrees, saying his firm will sometimes have in-house language classes taught by current staffers. Of the mostly Asian-American staff, he estimates 70% to 80% speak and understand a second language.

Even the smallest bit helps, he says, including learning simple phrases such as “hello” and “thank you,” or learning about cultural differences. “It is showing respect,” he says, “which is very important in the Asian markets.”

Roxana Lissa, CEO of RLPR, also encourages her clients to learn another language. More than 90% of her staffers are bilingual, she says. The others are learning.

“I have seen a lot of progress with staff members who have taken classes,” she says.

John Echeveste, principal at VPE Public Relations, looks for native Spanish speakers to join his team, and they make up 90% of his staff, he says. He recommends non-native speaking employees consume Spanish-language media and learn a bit about the differences among countries' use of the language.

“There is more to it than just knowing the words,” he says. “Unless you've lived in a Latin American country, where you can practice it on a day-to-day basis... it's just very difficult to get at that level.”

Key Points:

Knowing a second language can help PR pros understand or reach a culture

Taking language classes, consuming media, and learning about cultures lead to greater awareness

Several firms prefer native speakers because it adds a level of understanding that is difficult to learn

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