Fabian Demicoli

Multilingualism: How languages help business

 

The Business Forum for multilingualism, set up in 2007 to explore how language skills can have an impact on trade and jobs in the European Union, delivered its report to Commissioner Orban this week. The report gives a clear overview of what needs to be done to help companies gain access to new markets and new business opportunities in the globalised world.

It is based on research reports, case studies, interviews and personal experiences of members of the Forum, chaired by Viscount Etienne Davignon, Belgian Minister of State and former Vice-President of the European Commission.

Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban stated: "This Business Forum report makes the case for multilingualism in European companies, proving how linguistic diversity and investing in language and intercultural skills can be turned into a real asset for prosperity and a benefit for all. Its conclusions and recommendations are an excellent contribution to the new strategic Communication on multilingualism, which I intend to present in September this year. They are also clearly in tune with the objectives established in the Lisbon strategy for more growth and jobs."

Vice President Günter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, endorsed the report, saying: "Investing in language skills and managing diversity will be crucial for the European society to fully benefit from the globalised world. Diverse language skills allow for communication, for understanding and for finding new solutions. It is high time, that education and professional training takes account of these needs and offer everybody a broad range of skills. More than ever our society needs the active promotion of intercultural exchange and cross border cooperation."

The following main points emerge from the Business Forum report:

Europe is running the risk of losing competitiveness, as emerging economies mainly in Asia and Latin America are rapidly acquiring solid language skills together with other competences necessary for successful competition.

Formal and informal learning of a wide range of languages should be actively promoted in the EU Member States as the business sector needs an increasingly diversified workforce. Language skills are crucial, if tomorrow's workforce is to consider all of Europe their home base.

Language strategies need to be endorsed at the highest management level in companies across Europe. This can take the form, for instance, of investing in language training, of employing native speakers and of ensuring good multilingual communication via the Internet.

Companies need support for their efforts to use languages strategically, notably via the networks and structures already in place. The role of national export promotion organisations, such as trade councils, is considered crucial in this respect.

A European platform is required for a structured exchange of information and of best practices involving languages for business.

Prominent business representatives in the Forum include:

Winfried Albrink, Head of Training, Henkel Group,

Henning Dyremose, Chairman of the Danish Trade Council and former Managing Director of TDC (Danish Telecom),

Sabina Klimek, manager in Deloitte Business Consulting,

Peter Mathews, Chairman and Managing Director of Black Country Metals Limited and

Caroline Jenner, CEO of Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe, a support network for young entrepreneurs.

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