Is a Lack of Language Skills Damaging British Firms Abroad?

One in three British firms sending a manager overseas do not require them to be fluent in the local language, a survey has revealed

The research, from workspace provider Regus, profiled over 2,500 business owners and managers in the UK on their attitudes to doing business abroad.

35 per cent admitted that when appointing an expat manager to oversee operations in a foreign country, they do not require them to speak the relevant language, while an even larger 41 per cent said that they do not believe language fluency is critical to overseas success.

Experts said that despite the fact English is spoken across much of the world, a lack of knowledge of other languages could severely undermine companies’ attempts to take advantage of opportunities abroad.

“Despite the near ubiquity of English, it’s clear that there will be an increasing premium on managers who speak Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic or Russian as the centres of business power move inexorably towards the new economic powerhouses of China and elsewhere,” said Stephan Chambers, MBA Programme Director at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. “Fluency in languages other than our own must help insight and understanding and, in turn, our national competitiveness.”

Nicky Carter, a Portugal-based expat who runs a website dedicated to living and working in the country, said that she believed “anyone planning on expanding their businesses into a foreign country or relocating to one would have a far better success rate if at the early stages they allowed some time and expense to training key staff members in the language of that country.

“We receive hundreds of enquiries for help from expats, some of whom have a basic grasp of the language but still struggle when dealing with normal day-to-day tasks when communicating in Portuguese. Put them in a business environment with their level of Portuguese and things could go quickly wrong.”

The findings were seen as a particularly concerning in light of the current economic climate, which has put firms under pressure to do more trade overseas.

Celia Donne, regional director at Regus, warned that if “the British workforce cannot plug the skills gap, then foreign candidates with language skills will be first to the job opportunities.”

Taken from The Telegraph: 01.02.12