Byline: Tony McDonough
THERE is a television advertisement for HSBC which shows an English businessman visiting China.
While having dinner with his hosts the man is served a large eel.
Thinking he is being polite the man, with some difficulty,clears his plate but unbeknown to him the gesture is taken as an insult by the hosts who see it as an indication their guest is unsatisfied with the meal.
An even bigger eel is summoned which the man also polishes off,causing more offence.
The ad is intended to be humorous,but it provides a pointer to a real problem faced by firms attempting to do business in foreign countries.
The North West Development Agency (NWDA) thinks this is such a serious problem it funds the Regional Language Network North West (RLNNW) dedicated to helping exporters overcome language and cultural barriers.
It offers a regional ``one stop shop'' for information embracing language in the workplace and improving competitiveness in the global marketplace.
The organisation's chief, Dr Cristina Sousa,believes firms in the North West are losing huge potential export markets because they are not making enough effort to break down their language shortcomings.
Merseyside and the North West exported goods worth pounds 14.4bnin 2002,figures from HM Customs and Excise show.
About pounds 9bn was to countries within the EU.
Dr Sousa said: ``The North West region compared to other regions is underperforming in terms of exporting their goods to other countries.
``The North West is the third biggest regional economic power in the UK, so the NWDA is keen to increase our export potential.
``It wants to encourage more companies to become exporters and provide help to those who may be just beginning to do so.
``Unfortunately a lot of people in this region still believe most people in the world speak English,but a lot of companies are now starting to realise that if you want to sell successfully to other countries you have to be able to communicate in the language of those countries.
``A business deal is more likely to be made if the company selling the product can communicate in the buyer's language.''
Dr Sousa said company representatives returning from overseas trips were finding language a problem.
``British firms who have attended export fairs abroad have noticed how important this is,'' she said. ``It doesn't matter how well laid out your stand is or how fantastic your product.
``If the potential customer can't speak English often they will walk past the stand and go somewhere else.
``It is true to say that because the UK and US are major economic powers English is still widely spoken across the world. ``But a lot of companies who want to export are SMEs and many of the companies they want to sell to are …