· 2 min read · Features

Competing across borders points a way out of recession – the case for language and communication training


Contrary to the expectations of many experts, the current global economic downturn is spurring more and more companies to look outside of their borders and become more international in the way they do business.

It is therefore becoming commonplace for workers and businesses to communicate and collaborate with customers, colleagues, suppliers and partners outside their home market. The companies that will thrive in these conditions are the ones whose employees have the skills and training to communicate effectively and efficiently so that they can fully take advantage of the opportunities on offer to them. In fact I'd argue good communication is the key enabler of international trade, growth and corporate efficiency.

In a survey commissioned by EF Education First in partnership with the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), almost half (49%) of nearly 600 executives admitted that communication misunderstandings have stood in the way of major international business deals and resulting in significant losses for their company. This number rises considerably for Brazilian and Chinese companies, where 74% and 61% respectively acknowledged experiencing such losses. Language and cultural differences are therefore proving to be major barriers to businesses succeeding on an international level. We see this as a problem especially for companies who are making their first foray outside their native market, with almost two thirds (64%) saying that differences in language and culture have made it difficult to gain a foothold in foreign markets.

These challenges are compounded by the fact that almost nine in ten respondents predicted that their number of overseas clients will increase in the next three years, and more than three quarters (77%) believe their firm will have an operational presence in more countries than they do currently. With all this in mind, it is crucial for companies to ensure their employees have the right skills to converse effectively across borders.

The majority of executives from around the globe (68%) deem English to be the international business language, followed by Mandarin and Spanish. Now more than ever, it is clear that we should be investing in training our staff to communicate in these languages if businesses are to expand globally. Those businesses who are communicating in these languages may be at an advantage, but these businesses must still work hard to ensure their staff are communicating effectively and adapting to cultural barriers. Despite the fact that almost 90% of executives have stated that if cross-border communication were to improve at their company, profits, revenue and market share would increase significantly; these same executives admit that there is a distinct lack of training to hone their employees' language and communication skills. Business leaders have acknowledged this problem, but this gap between recognition and action continues to persist.

It's now or never. British companies must look to expand outside our borders and work with companies in other markets to foster economic growth. The time is now to focus on language and communications training for employees and new hires.

Andy Bailey (pictured), head of strategy and chief marketing officer at Education First