Foreign language a strong currency

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The Independent Online
The other day a newly qualified accountant found himself a new job on a salary of pounds 43,000 - even in these booming times for finance professionals a cut or two above the average. The reason? He is fluent in a foreign language.

The tongue in question was Russian. But it might just as well have been anything because of the general shortage of well-qualified accountants who can speak a foreign language.

Eastern Europe is continuing to seek great numbers of western, largely UK-based, accountants, creating a corresponding demand for finance professionals with at least knowledge of Polish, Russian or other languages. But even in less exotic places, such as France and Belgium, there are great opportunities for those who can combine technical skills with linguistic ability.

For example, says Jeff Grout, managing director of the financial recruitment specialists Robert Half, a young accountant able to speak fluent French who had just completed training with a Big Six firm "would have no problem at all getting a job in Paris".

The situation has developed for two reasons. First, while such markets vary in their confidence, most continental European countries put great store by the UK accountancy qualification, and, second, the British education system still seems to have difficulty in producing multi-linguists in significant numbers.

According to Denis Waxman, managing director of Hays Accountancy Personnel, the shortage is so "desperate" that his firm and others are having to be increasingly innovative in their efforts to solve the problem.

With employers becoming ever more demanding in the sort of technical skills they want to go with the languages, one way is to seek to persuade them to take on people who have language skills to work alongside those with the technical expertise, on a contractual basis.

Such compromises are likely to continue. Mr Grout, for one, says he cannot see any sign of an increase in the number of multilingual qualified accountants coming through the doors.

And even those who do have A-level French, German or Italian may not be expected because employers are increasingly demanding about the level of fluency. "Some people argue that English is the business language, but you need the local language in order to operate," adds Mr Grout.

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