The Financial Impact of Foreign Language Skills

In a new study commissioned by the European Commission, the use of language skills by SMEs and the impact on business performance was analysed with surprising results. The survey of SMEs, ‘ELAN: Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise’, found that a significant amount of business is being lost as a result of lack of language skills. Across the sample of nearly 2,000 businesses, 11% of respondents (195 SMEs) had lost a contract as a result of lack of language skills. Many were unable or unwilling to indicate the size of the contract lost, but 37 businesses had lost actual contracts which together were valued at between € 8 million and € 13.5 million. A further 54 businesses had lost potential contracts worth in total between €16.5 million and €25.3 million. At least 10 businesses had lost contracts worth over €1 million. “Language is an obvious key factor of international business success, not only to open up markets and business opportunities abroad,” says European Diversity Research & Consulting’s General Manager Michael Stuber. “It also broadens people’s minds for other approaches and hence encourages learning and improvement in one’s own sphere”, he adds. And language skills needs will increase in future: In 13 of the 29 countries surveyed, at least 50% of respondents believed they would need additional language skills in the next three years. Intercultural skills were also widely predicted to be required in future, although not at the same level of response. In 15 of the 29 countries at least 50% of respondents claimed to have a language strategy (defined as ‘the planned adoption of a range of techniques to facilitate effective communication with clients and suppliers abroad’). Although there was wide variation between countries, an average of 48% of businesses across the sample are applying language strategies.