Foreign language skills can boost UK exports, says BCC

Friday 13 April 2012

Providing firms with more training in foreign languages, and increasing their exposure to international companies, would encourage more business owners to export, it has been reported.

Research conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) suggests that although more UK businesses are selling goods overseas, there is still significant potential for growth.

Some 61 per cent of non-exporters surveyed by the BCC said they consider a lack of language skills a barrier to trading internationally.

Of those business owners that claim some language knowledge, very few can speak well enough to conduct deals in international markets.

French is the most commonly spoken language, with 73 per cent of business owners claiming some knowledge.

However, just four per cent said they were able to converse fluently enough in French to conduct business deals.

And - worryingly given the size of the market, and rate of growth - a mere four per cent claimed any understanding of the Chinese language, with just one per cent claiming fluency.

"Re-establishing foreign languages as core subjects within the UK national curriculum and in workplace training would mean that the next generation of business owners are 'born global' with language skills," the BCC claimed.

The body is calling for UK education to be revised so that studying a foreign language is compulsory until AS level.

"Businesses could also be helped in training staff in new languages, if the government offered additional financial incentives such as tax credits for small and medium-sized businesses that make a significant investment in language training," the BCC suggested.

John Longworth, director general of the organisation, commented that exporting "is good for Britain".

"We're encouraged to see the percentage of firms exporting in our survey has increased from 22 per cent in January 2011 to 32 per cent in January 2012," he noted.

"Exports are equivalent to nearly 30 per cent of UK gross domestic product, but more can be done to help businesses take the first step to exporting."

Mr Longworth said it is right to encourage current and future business owners to develop the necessary skills to trade overseas.

"A renewed focus on language skills at school, as well as helping companies forge new connections overseas, could help ensure that current and future business owners are pre-disposed to thinking internationally," he added.

Posted by Sarah Parish