Why Cultural Fluency Is Important to Your Career Success

In recent years, it has become a requirement for managers working in multinational companies to have international work experience to be able to advance their career further into senior leadership positions. These companies work in global markets and senior executives are required to collaborate with team members in different countries. At some point, they may also be assigned to head a team overseas. Having international work experience will certainly increase their effectiveness and thus their values to the companies they work for.

Nowadays, international work experience no longer needs to be a long-term posting. Short-term overseas work placement has become more popular. Indeed, short-term and medium-term overseas relocation are more ideal for promotion than long-term relocation as managers can focus on growing their career in their home country.  In any case, cultural fluency and foreign language skills are critical to your success.

Learn A Culture That Is Very Different from Your Own

Although English speaking countries like Singapore, Canada and Australia top the chart when it comes to expat destinations, they are quite similar to American culture.  So if you are assigned to work in culturally similar destinations, you won’t really experience the challenge of international job postings. You will also face a higher level of competition with people who want to be assigned to these popular destinations. Moreover, to be a well-rounded global leader, you will be better off learning a culture that is significantly different from your own. Also, you will face less competition.


Everyone Who Works Globally Needs Cultural Fluency

It is a good idea to have cultural fluency in at least one of America’s major trading partners.  China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany and South Korea are the top six. Cultural fluency is useful not only to people who work in multinationals, but everyone who works with people from different cultures. Depending on your industry and interest, you may want to choose a culture to focus on. Your job may require you to work with people from a particular country regularly.  Your main customers may come from a certain country.   Or you have spotted an opportunity in a specific market.

“Language is the road map of a culture.”

Costs and risks of relocation are lowered when you speak the language of the host country, making the ability to speak a foreign language an invaluable asset. When expats are surveyed on what they wish they know before being relocated to make their experience better, they say it is the ability to speak the language of the host country. Cross-cultural training is important.  But not being able to speak the host country’s language can be a real hassle for daily work and life. Imagine working in Japan and not speaking Japanese, a country that uses very little English, life can be very isolated.

Communication is key when it comes to collaboration. True, the country you are assigned to may have staff members who speak English.  You can hire an interpreter, but that is not always practical. Direct translation between two languages of very dissimilar culture is not always effective, especially in a professional context. Work can be more effective when you can communicate in the language of your work partners. You will be pleasantly surprised by the personal journey of your language learning experience. Not only will t broaden your career opportunities, but also your social opportunities.


This post is sponsored by Asian Language School, a language trainer for professionals specializing in business Chinese and Japanese.


Jackie LaMar

Beach lover. SoCal dweller. Life is never over unless you surrender. Keep going, the prize IS out there.