CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 16, 2017
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Language lessons

English may be the principal language of international business, but it isn't—and shouldn't be—the only one.

I'm writing this after spending part of my day working on the latest edition of our Spanish-language e-newsletter, Executive Insight en español. The newsletter, which is based on our monthly Executive Insight electronic newsletter, includes my "Perspective" column and a selection of news articles from our website, ably converted from English to Spanish by our translator in Mexico, David Hernández. David and I work closely together: I learn Spanish grammar and vocabulary from him, and he learns terms like "sales and operations planning" and "e-commerce order fulfillment" from me. (Click here and scroll down to "Executive Insight en español" to view a sample newsletter.)

Recently we test-launched a Chinese-language version of Executive Insight. We are fortunate to partner in this venture with Charles Guowen Wang, Ph.D., of the China Development Institute's Institute for Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Charles is also the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' chief representative in China, a respected researcher and business leader, and a widely published author. I have only a very rudimentary knowledge of Chinese; I was able to pick out a few common words and my own name from the newsletter, but that was about it. But no worries; we know that with Dr. Wang and his talented colleagues we are in expert hands.

Why are we making the effort to share some of our content in other languages when so many logistics and supply chain professionals around the world read and speak English well? For one thing, there is great and growing demand for supply chain information and education throughout Latin America and China. For another, most people are much more comfortable with, and gain greater benefit from, material written in their own language.

One company that understands this is Nestlé, the giant manufacturer of food and nutrition products. The Switzerland-based conglomerate has approximately 36,000 employees who are directly involved in its supply chain. To share supply chain knowledge, Nestlé "employs all of the communication technologies of today and tomorrow," said Chris Tyas, Nestlé's global head of supply chain, at the Gartner 2016 Supply Chain Executive Conference in May. For example, the food manufacturer has developed more than 70 supply chain-related massive open online courses, or MOOCs. But Nestlé recognizes that for those courses to be truly effective, its employees must fully understand them. For that reason, the company offers its MOOCs in multiple languages.

Finding a common tongue, whether it's English or something else, is an inevitable part of conducting business across borders. But there are times when—as Nestlé and many other global players well know—translating information to the local language will lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.

Toby Gooley is Editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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