Multilingualism boosts European competitiveness

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Sep 27 16:11:33 UTC 2007

Each year, thousands of European companies lose business and miss out
on contracts as a result of their lack of language skills, according
to a study carried out for the European Commission during 2006 by
CILT, the UK National Centre for Languages, published today. The
findings suggest that there is enormous potential for small businesses
in Europe to increase their total exports if they invest more in
languages and develop coherent language strategies. Recent research
shows that companies that enhance their language skills can exploit
better the business opportunities in the EU's internal market, which,
with nearly half a billion people, is the world's largest.
"Far from being an unwelcome cost to doing business", European
Commissioner for Multilingualism, Leonard Orban, said, "investing in
language skills can dramatically improve a company's business
opportunities. I plan to place multilingualism at the heart of the
Lisbon strategy for more growth and jobs."

The study, entitled "Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of
Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise", is the first attempt at
European level to estimate the cost to EU business of not having
foreign language skills. The data in the study is based on a sample of
2000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe,
correlated with information from 30 multinational companies and a
group of experts from the countries involved, and supplemented by a
set of case studies.

Nearly half of the exporting SMEs surveyed are planning to expand into
new foreign markets in the next three years. Consequently they predict
an increase in their demand for language skills to meet this
expansion. However, instead of investing in language training
themselves, they prefer to look to the Member States' education and
training systems to provide them with people with the right language
skills. Or they simply look on the labour market for geographically
mobile people who have the required language skills.

The research shows that these responses are increasingly inadequate. A
significant proportion of European companies are losing export
business through lack of language skills and intercultural skills. The
study suggests that increasing investment to develop language skills
across the EU would produce far-reaching economic benefits, especially
in terms of a positive impact on SME productivity and export

While the report confirms the importance of English as the world
business language, other languages are used extensively as
intermediary languages. In particular, the analysis reveals that there
is a need for a range of other languages if business relationships are
to be built successfully. Those cited as being the most important
include the main European languages, such as German, French and
Spanish, but increasingly also other world languages like Mandarin,
Arabic and Russian.

The study will form the basis for the forthcoming work of the Business
Forum, which Commissioner Orban intends to launch this year in
partnership with European business, to understand better how language
skills impact on EU trade and jobs.

The executive summary of the study is available as MEMO/07/79.
The complete study is published on the following website:
For more information on the languages in the EU, see:

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