Language & Business

Although it is often assumed that English is the international business language and that most people therefore should speak English, it may not only be linguistic complacency to assume so, but it is a limiting approach in the professional world. You may find the following statistic rather astounding:

94% of the world’s population does not speak English as their first language (Source: World Fact Book). 11.2% of the world’s population speak English as a second or third language. By conservative estimates, that means that well over four-fifths of the world’s population does not speak English.

Furthermore, there is a direct correlation between using foreign languages in business and international communications and revenue.

A 2005 research commissioned by Durham County Council, which was carried out by Northumbria University, affirmed the direct correlation between the use of languages and annual turnover in business.

In Britain alone, 80% of exporters cannot competently conduct business in even one foreign language. Two-thirds of exporters confessed to having no formal strategy to maintain or instigate trade with foreign speaking businesses. There is a direct correlation between the value an exporter places on language skills within their business and their annual turnover. 77% of exporters indicated that they had missed or lost export sales or revenue. Most frequently, these losses were due to a lack of understanding of the foreign market.

In February 2005, the National Centre for Languages revealed that companies in the UK alone are losing business because they fail to overcome language and cultural barriers. Almost half of British companies were reported to be experiencing barriers to international trade but only 11% of businesses had a strategy to deal with this. Over 20% indicated that they had lost business as a consequence of language and culture barriers and twice that number anticipate trading with other countries in the future. The conclusion was that there is a need for a new ‘export culture’ with international communications as its key. (Source: Professor Stephen Hagen, Director of Mercier Institute of Enterprise).

In April 2005, Britain’s House of Lords European Union Committee declared the importance of foreign languages during the Proposed EU integrated Action Programme for Lifelong Learning, with a focus on European languages:

It is to [Britain’s] national advantage that English is the generally accepted international medium for communication. But that must not be seen as a substitute for the ability to communicate effectively in one or more other mainstream European languages which is essential if this country is to do business successfully in the wider sense with our European neighbours and with other countries where those languages are spoken.’
- House of Lords European Union Committee

Britain’s Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Language Network carried out a survey which indicated that one-third of firms who responded felt that ‘English was enough’ but even this group conceded that language skills would help them create a better service. Half of the firms surveyed felt that using language was important to their business success. Most of the firms contacted were interested in understanding different cultures rather than acquiring new language skills. Only one company reported having front of house staff with language skills and no respondents identified language skills amongst their secretarial/administrative staff.

In a global economy, this is applicable to all continents, however, not solely Europe, and therefore also non-European languages.

The UK’s One North East Language Skills Capacity Audit in 2000 involved a survey in 3,206 British companies, which revealed that 46% of international companies claim to have encountered language barriers in business dealings. One North East also confirmed that there has been a notable increase in the number of international companies claiming loss of business due to lack of language skills. Some British companies are comparatively less self-sufficient in dealing with foreign language communication than their international competitors. It is apparent that culture and language competencies are almost equally important and intertwined.

For those small and medium enterprises that take up the challenge to enter or extend export markets, the support they are offered, not only in terms of funding, but also in terms of finding good quality language services, is restricted and may not be made available on a helpful timescale.

Interesting to note is that among the world’s 200 largest companies, 35 are French, 34 are German and 30 are British.

Interpreter’s Island specialises in (but is not limited to) English, French, German and Dutch, which are in the world’s top 10 most influential languages. The use of English, French and German on the internet and in business is particularly huge.

Interpreter’s Island facilitates most global languages, however and offers these services and more around the world. So, let Interpreter’s Island support you with your communication strategy and be sure to achieve your true global reach.

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