Businesses becoming more fluent, and not just in English


The caricature of the Briton abroad as someone who simply speaks louder when he wants to make himself understood may no longer hold true, at least according to a survey of UK businesses.

The study of British exporters by financial services firm Bibby found that almost half of those polled – 41 per cent – were fluent in the languages of their non-English speaking markets.

What’s more, nearly a quarter – 24 per cent – could hold a basic conversation in the native tongue of their trading partner.

Businesses have long been concerned about the amount and quality of language training children get in schools and even in universities.

Recent moves to make languages in school optional from the age of 14 have also worried many employers.

In the Bibby poll, some 39 per cent of exporters said they had benefited from language or cultural training and a quarter said they planned to do so in the future.

Just one in ten exporters said they had ever made an embarrassing or costly mistake because of a language or cultural misunderstanding.

Our closest neighbours were the preferred overseas market for UK businesses, with 86 per cent exporting to Germany and 82 per cent to France.

However, some 4 per cent were now venturing into Russian markets and 26 per cent said they were attracted to opportunities in Africa.

Exporters were also keen to capitalise on opportunities in the Middle East, with Iraq a potential possibility, and Asia, with eyes firmly on China as an important future market.

Bibby Financial Services chief executive David Robertson said: “This survey paints a very positive picture and reflects the professionalism of Britain’s exporting community.

“While Europe remains the mainstay of exporting activity, exporters are increasingly looking further afield for new markets,” he added.