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A lack of language skills prevents UK businesses from exporting

By Maëlle Alquezar According to a survey led by the British Chambers of Commerce in the first quarter of 2013, a lack of language skills prevents UK businesses from exporting. 4,678 responses from businesses have been received. Exporting requires knowledge of the local business culture which is different depending on countries or even on regions. A business relationship can quickly be affected by this lack of awareness. While the ability to speak the language of the targeted country is very important in order to carry out business (especially outside big cities), it appears to be a barrier to trade. Indeed, 18% of non-exporters have mentioned that language barriers will influence their decision taking to enter international markets, along with the date and location. Moreover, up to 70% of respondents did not speak the language of the market they targeted. For instance, 57% of business owners surveyed do not speak German, 64% do not speak Spanish and 76% do not speak Italian. The fastest-growing markets’ languages are the least commonly spoken by UK business owners with over 95% of respondents not being able to speak Russian or Chinese well enough to conduct business in those languages. Even if French remains the most commonly spoken language, only 5% of business owners are able to speak it fluently. It is important to realise how language skills and knowledge of the local business culture are important when exporting. Translating business and marketing documents into the buyer’s language is also very important to complete a successful export strategy.

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