The Many Languages of Asia, and the Delivery Locations Best Positioned to Service Them | Blog

Posted On January 24, 2020

Asia has long been an important business destination, as it’s home to more than 60 percent of the world’s population and accounts for a major share of world consumption. In fact, forecasts suggest that – with increasing access to credit, low inflation, rising income levels, and a favorable regulatory environment – Asia alone will account for 40 percent of the world’s consumption by 2040. The region also accounts for approximately half (about 2.2 billion) of the world’s internet users, which constitutes an enormous pool of digital consumers.

So, it’s no surprise that many businesses have set up facilities closer to the region and that many indigenous organizations have emerged as well. Indeed, about 40 percent of the world’s 5,000 largest companies are based in Asia.

However, to truly succeed in this market, enterprises need a crucial weapon: a multilingual workforce proficient in Asian languages.

Although English is still widely accepted as the universal language for business, a workforce proficient in Asian languages brings additional value to the table. It acts as a conduit between the organization and the region by helping develop a deeper cultural connection with customers, revealing their concerns and preferences, which might not be understood otherwise.

Major Asian business languages include Mandarin, Korean, Thai, Bahasa Indonesian, and Malay, and each one provides access to a different consumer market. Thus, one key strategic consideration for enterprises selecting an Asian service delivery location is the language capabilities of the talent in the destination.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the major multilingual destinations in Asia and the value proposition they offer.

Malaysia

Malaysia ranks among the top service delivery locations for Asian languages, primarily because it lies close to source markets and is a mature destination that supports a wide range of services and languages. The country supports scaled delivery of Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesian and, to a lesser extent, Korean, Japanese, and Thai. The only challenge is the relatively high cost of operations compared to other Asian service delivery locations.

The Philippines

Another attractive location for service delivery in Asian languages, the Philippines offers moderate cost savings, breadth and depth of services, and scalable language delivery. However, the country struggles with achieving scaled service delivery in Thai.

Vietnam

Vietnam is a moderately attractive location for Asian language delivery, driven by the significant cost arbitrage it offers compared to other prominent locations. Organizations can achieve scaled delivery of services in Japanese and Mandarin but will experience challenges in scaling up service delivery in other Asian languages.

India

Although India is a key global services destination, the country falls behind its competitors in multilingual service delivery in Asian languages. India struggles to scale up service delivery in almost all major Asian languages, and compensation for multilingual service delivery approximately costs 50 percent more than service delivery in English.

With India out of the race, what’s the best service delivery location for your organization’s Asian language needs? If cost is an important consideration in setting up your multilingual team, the Philippines and Vietnam are attractive locations. But if you are looking for market maturity, scaled language delivery, and proximity to source markets, Malaysia is the clear winner. The country can comfortably cater to Indonesia, Korea, Japan, China, and Thailand – a huge belt within Asia – which combined house a population of nearly 1.6 billion.

To learn more about key locations for language-based service delivery and the primary drivers – including infrastructure, talent potential, business environment, adoption maturity, competitive intensity, and financial feasibility – that impact location attractiveness, please read our recently published report, Handbook for Language Skills, or reach out to the report authors: Parul Jain, Kunal Anand, and Pagalam Rajeshwaran.

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