It is often said accounting is the language of business. I have been recently putting this to a small test, to see how accounting works across different (spoken) languages and countries. My rather unsophisticated test stems from an experience in 2016 in Italy. While in the Abruzzo region, I came across a church in a mountain village. On it’s notice board were the parish accounts. I do not speak Italian, but my knowledge of the general format and layout of financial statements. combined some common sense, allowed me to understand the accounts quite well.
For my “test”, which I am using for a class I teach as a way to summarise various financial statement formats, I have collected the financial statements of several types/size of company and in several languages – English, Spanish, German and Irish. While I do speak some German and Spanish, my Irish is terrible (sad as an Irish person perhaps). Looking across the various financial statements in these languages – even though different rule and laws may apply – there is a typical structure which implies even a non-speaker can understand the basics. This of course stems from the fact that the double entry system underlies the financial statements, regardless of which language is used in their construction. The look and layout of the financial statements is also a good visual clue as to which statement it is – the balance sheet for example is easy to locate, given its two totals being equal.
In summary, while I am a bit embarrassed to say my Irish is terrible, I was able to understand a balance sheet in Irish – and of course in Spanish and German too. Thus, the results of my “test” – I speak accounting better than Irish!
If you are a native English speaker like me, then to some extent you’re probably like me and not all that great at foreign languages. I do speak pretty good German, but that’s it. I’d bet many of you reading this you are not native English speakers probably speak 2 or 3 languages quite well. So how important is it for accountants to speak a foreign language?
Some of you might say accountants already speak a foreign language – debit, credit, journal and so on. However, remember that accounting is a social practice. We need to talk to people and if we can speak in their native language, that will improve our ability to get things across. A second (or third) language for an accountant is probably a must if you work in a multi-national. To quote a recent piece from CPA Ireland’s newsletter (Dec 21st, 2012)
” The August Morgan McKinley Employment Monitor highlighted that employers are looking for part qualified and qualified accountants with a second European language, so knowing a language such as French, German or Spanish could increase your employability dramatically. The most recent report for October showed that the majority of hiring continues to be among multilingual professionals in the accountancy sector”
So why not learn or perfect that second language. Do a business specific course if you already know the language. As an accountant, you might be surprised by much you already know. For example, I was teaching in Spain last year and while flicking through a local newspaper I came across this term:
Beneficios antes de intereses, impuestos, depreciaciones y amortizaciones
It didn’t take me very long to figure out this was EBITDA. I speak no Spanish by the way. Don’t you just love the word “impuestos” – it really capture how tax is”imposed” on us. Have a read of the article in Scientifc American below – apparently we are even sharper with our reasoning in foreign languages.