Insider Perspective

Is the Scarcity of Language Skills stunting your Business Growth?

There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today. Of these, twenty three are a mother tongue for more than 50 million people. Spoken in 110 countries, English is the most widespread of those languages and is also the most popular language being learned, with over 1500 million learners worldwide.

It is little surprise, therefore, that in the UK, we have a poor reputation for learning other languages. English has become the standard in sectors such as business, technology and science, so the question is - why should we bother when other nationalities speak such good English …?

A recent article in The Financial Times entitled “Tongue-tied UK business find foreign trade lost in translation” discusses the implications of this historical complacency in terms of the UK's export growth. It states that, according to the British Chamber of Commerce, the government’s goal of doubling the value of exports to £1tn by 2020 may not be reached before 2034. It also quotes research showing that one in four UK companies operating internationally or planning to do so has lost business because of the lack of foreign language skills.

The gist is that we cannot continue to get by, presuming that all business will be done in English. The ability to speak to someone in their native language goes beyond simple communication, it is about building trust and a level of respect and understanding that will sustain successful long-term business relationships.

Stated simply:

“If you address someone in their native tongue, they are 10 times more likely to buy from you — whatever their competence in English.” (1)

With a service-based economy and a global marketplace, foreign language skills play a crucial role for the future prosperity of the UK. Increasing competition makes it more important than ever to effectively communicate a compelling proposition, develop strong relationships with overseas partners and demonstrate respect for other cultures by using their native language. To lead in disciplines, whether professional or scientific, that cross international boundaries, we need to supplement our specialist skills with language skills, as indeed other countries do. We can only develop new global markets with sales and marketing strategies informed by research and insight and a solid understanding of the needs of other cultures.

Businesses are well aware of the potential impact and many have addressed the issue by using outsource solutions to compensate for the scarcity of skills.

At The Telemarketing Company in the South East of England, we are fortunate to have a rich pool of languages skills at our disposal and have, over the years, worked with a diverse set of clients, (including global market leaders) to provide multilingual expertise:

Examples include:

  • EMEA, APAC and RoW lead generation, qualification and telesales for clients including Tripadvisor and Docusign.
  • Lead generation across multiple EMEA territories for Microsoft and its European Channel Partners.
  • Appointment setting with Senior Decision Makers in EMEA countries for Dow Jones.
  • Market research and data validation throughout Europe and the Far East for Mettler Toledo.
  • Loyalty programme registrations across EMEA and Russia for a major global airline.
  • Promotion of the prestigious Yellow and Black Pencil Awards for excellence in design and advertising for the British educational charity, Design and Art Direction.

Aside from simply accessing language skills you may not have in-house and which are hard to recruit, outsourcing your multilingual requirements has many other benefits:

  • Multilingual skills within an agency are combined with other specialist skills such as market mapping, solution selling, or CATI research, and an ongoing training programme. Finding these specialism's in conjunction with languages in the open market is exceptional and can be expensive.
  • When new opportunities present themselves, your business needs to react quickly to win new business. Sourcing language skills takes time, but an outsourced solution gives you the agility you need to take advantage of those opportunities as and when they arise.
  • Developing new markets is resource intense and can stretch in-house resource and management bandwidth. An outsource solution reduces that overhead, allowing you to continue to focus on your core competence and maintain established business.
  • An outsource option allows you to put a toe in the water in new markets and gives you the ability to safely pilot different approaches. You can then ramp up activity, when you have found traction with the right strategy.
  • You may have skills that support basic levels of communication but not the quality of skills for specialist or technical tasks. We have, for example, worked with clients in regulated industries such as finance, where verbatim capture of feedback is part of a quality/compliance process, or with global clients who need to capture insight consistently across multiple countries, whilst tailoring their approach to accommodate local and cultural needs.
  • A high level of fluency is needed to communicate more complex or technical propositions in a compelling way. You may have language skills that support transactional communication but these fall short of the persuasive skills that are required to push your proposition effectively.
  • An outsource option can fulfil a short term need or fluctuating requirements, particularly when moving into new markets, without the risk of a longer term investment. An outsource agency can flex their resource up and down to maintain a steady flow of leads, giving you time to nurture opportunities and build an understanding of new markets.
  • You may have some core language skills in-house but need to supplement these as you handle increased volumes or may need to add more exotic languages to take you into new areas. We have supported campaigns with a wide range of languages including French, German, Portuguese, Flemish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Conclusion

The CBI's Director for employment and skills reports

"Two thirds of businesses are concerned by the lack of foreign language skills amongst school leavers".

An All-Party Parliamentary Group on modern languages recently called for a "national recovery programme" to improve language skills, claiming the UK is already losing £50bn a year over poor language skills (2).

It seems a bleak picture but, with additional focus, there is hope that language skills will be more available in future to increase the UK's competitiveness. In the meantime, however, an outsource agency can provide a low-risk multilingual solution for ambitious businesses looking to develop new overseas markets or large organisations maintaining and extending their international operations

If you are concerned that the inability to recruit multilingual staff is stunting your business growth, you too may want to consider an outsource solution...

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