Export firms lack second language

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The Independent Online
TWO IN 10 English firms that export goods do not have a single member of staff who can speak a foreign language, according to a new survey.

Research among 1,000 companies also found that few were working to improve the language skills of their employees. Other studies have revealed that firms were losing contracts in Europe because of communication difficulties.

The survey, due to be published next week, showed that foreign languages and business culture were the biggest problems for English exporters.

One in four firms surveyed by the Small Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Development Centre at Luton Business School had no system in place to deal with written correspondence in another language, while one in six chose to use a translation agency. Three out of four firms told the researchers that they had made few or no preparations for carrying out transactions in the euro, and 45 per cent of businesses said they did not feel European.

At 31 per cent, the North East had the highest percentage of firms with no staff capable of speaking a foreign language, while the east of England had the most companies with no system for dealing with telephone calls in another language.

A programme funded by the European Union to improve foreign language skills in business is being launched this month, and courses will run at the universities of Luton, North London, Sheffield Hallam and Wolverhampton, and at Bolton Business School.