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Beyond Borders: Multilingualism and Public Relations

By Abena Koomson on March 4, 2024

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A woman stands in front of a blue background while holding flags of different countries.

I have always been in awe of people who can speak multiple languages apart from English. Someone closest to me speaks fluent Spanish in addition to his native tongue, English. Despite hearing him speak this often, I always find myself fascinated when he randomly starts to have conversations with other people, be it our Uber driver or a server, anytime we are out in the city. My fascination with multilingualism resulted in me starting my Duolingo journey —my attempt to become fluent in French, a language I fancy. If you were wondering, it is going very well one year in.

The linguistic abilities of multilingual speakers enable them to navigate a diverse range of cultural contexts and connect with people across all borders. When it comes to any line of work, I believe the ability to speak a second language makes an individual a great asset, especially for jobs that require constantly interacting with the public. This brings us to public relations and how multilingualism can be leveraged to make it a more successful practice. The advantages of knowing a second language are numerous in public relations, as the concept of communications is at the profession’s core.

I pursued a bachelor’s in public relations because of my love for communications and storytelling and decided to take it one step further by learning French. I knew that for the rest of my PR career, my work would entail a lot of communication across multiple clients and industries, and my fluency in French would be helpful at some point. In the last few years, there has been a massive increase in the global society. With this in mind, an individual’s ability to communicate effectively with different people worldwide is greatly valued.

Our job as public relations professionals is to connect with people. Many businesses today are crossing international lines. The best way to support clients, gain audiences’ attention abroad and achieve successful PR efforts is simple: Use their language. For instance, if an organization or brand in America were looking to launch in parts of Asia, they would be more successful if they were able to speak, understand and have interactions in any of the 2,300 languages spoken in Asia, depending on where exactly they plan to launch. By doing this, they could expand their reach and be ahead of their competitors in their respective industries.

Being multilingual widens your thinking, and PR professionals can leverage this, especially when curating PR campaigns meant to target different consumer groups. The best way to gain the attention of various consumer groups through your PR campaigns is to ensure your campaigns include aspects of their culture. This, you would know from studying their language. Language is more than words; it is more than how people interact. Language is also the reflection of a culture; mastering another language connects you with its native speakers on a deeper level. When that different consumer group notices those aspects of their language or culture included in your PR campaigns, they feel seen and welcomed and will most likely interact with whatever you are promoting. Now, your PR efforts will not only start to see encouraging numbers but also, you will have connected with a new audience.

Media relations is an important aspect of the PR discipline and an area where being a multilingual PR practitioner will set you up for success. The public relations practice regularly sees media pitching necessary for generating coverage for a client, brand or organization. As a PR professional, you make a striking impression when you can send pitches and seamlessly interact with foreign or non-English-speaking reporters and journalists when an opportunity is presented. Let’s bring it closer to home with the following example. If you were representing a Toronto-based brand looking to expand to Montreal, your media relations efforts must be delivered in French, their primary language. By sending your pitches in French, they see your acknowledgement of the area where you find yourself, and you are sending an important message. This leads to an effective interaction with these journalists that could land you coverage.

It is no secret that the industry is fast-paced and continually evolving, and PR professionals must keep up. We often see professionals using multitasking, especially on the agency side. Working across many different clients with set deadlines, how could you possibly not? A study by Scientific American showed that being multilingual enhances an individual’s multitasking abilities. Their ability to switch between languages often translates into their real life, and they can switch seamlessly across tasks. That’s an unlocked cognitive superpower right there!

I don’t have much language experience, but I try to change that daily through my Duolingo lessons and binge-watching foreign films and shows. This makes me fall in love with languages every time!

As I master French, I look forward to how far up that ability will take me as I navigate my PR career. I, however, know, without any doubt, that I am going nowhere else but the very top. Outside of PR, maybe I, too, can finally have random conversations with people in French when I am out in the city.

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