The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is calling on UK companies to place more emphasis on foreign language training to maximise the benefits of exporting.
In a survey of 8,000 businesses, the BCC finds that the majority of those questioned admit that language barriers are restricting a desire to export and move into new markets.
The research shows that 61 per cent of non-exporters, which are likely to consider trading overseas, see a lack of language skills as a barrier to entry. Of those that export, the top three reasons which led respondents to take the move are: collaboration with overseas partners (71 per cent); a chance enquiry from outside the UK (57 per cent) and previous work experience abroad (52 per cent).
Of those that say they possess some language knowledge, very few say that language levels are high enough to conduct deals in international markets.
With the IMF predicting that the Chinese economy is set to grow by 9.5 per cent in 2012, the BCC’s findings reveal that only four per cent of company owners have any knowledge of the language, while 1 per cent claim they could converse fluently.
John Longworth, director general of the BCC, comments, ‘Exporting is good for Britain, so it is right that we should encourage current and future business owners to develop the necessary skills to trade overseas.’
The percentage of firms now exporting has increased from 22 per cent in January 2011 to 32 per cent in January 2012. Exports are equivalent to nearly 30 per cent of UK GDP. ‘But more can be done to help businesses take the first step to exporting,’ Longworth adds.
‘Encouraging companies to boost foreign language skills with incentives like tax credits is just one way of making sure we continue to export best of British products and services around the world.’
Longworth calls for a ‘renewed focus’ on language skills at school to help forge new connections overseas. The BCC wants to see the National Curriculum revised so that studying a foreign language is compulsory until AS level (17 years of age).