PERSPECTIVE: Language Skills Increase Your Turnover; Birmingham MP Gisela Stuart Was Born in Germany but Has Lived and Worked in Britain for Most of Her Life. She Is Backing a New Campaign to Encourage More British Students to Learn Foreign Languages. Here, She Explains Why British Business Needs More Bilingual Employees
Byline: Gisela Stuart
Go almost anywhere in the world on holiday or for business and you are surprised by just how many people understand and speak English. So it is of little surprise that fewer and fewer young people here bother to learn a foreign language and even fewer adults spend any time improving the French, Spanish or German they might have been taught at school. It seems like a lot of hard work for little return.
With increased globalisation English has become the international commercial language. Last week Siemens, the quintessentially German engineering group, was reported to have decided to have the bulk of its senior management meetings in English.
But we would be wrong to think that this means we are alright. We lose out. As one businessman put it to me: 'If I want to buy from you I speak your language, but if you want to sell to me you have to speak mine'. And he was right.
Companies which do not pay attention to developing their staff's foreign languages skills will damage their long term competitiveness. They won't fully exploit their export potentials and they will also fail to attract the best staff from overseas.
Go to any British university and you find a glittering array of the best and brightest from across Europe. And our companies will have to recruit in this market too. Any UK plc which invests in language skills is estimated to increase its turnover by pounds 250,000 per year - simply because it becomes more outward looking and entrepreneurial in the process.
Many companies who would not dream of denying the importance of 'communication' still have not accepted that getting their staff to use foreign languages is a vital element of a successful communication strategy.
International conferences and tourism brings significant amounts of money into the Midlands and Birmingham. It makes sense to have hotel staff that can respond to a request for getting a taxi in French or explain where the nearest cash point is in German. …